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A Thematic Analysis of Weibo Topics (Chinese Twitter Hashtags) regarding Older Adults During the COVID-19 Outbreak

  • Xi, Wanyu1
  • Xu, Wenqian2
  • Zhang, Xin3, 4
  • Ayalon, Liat1
  • 1 Louis and Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work, Bar-Ilan University, Israel , (Israel)
  • 2 Department of Culture and Society, Linköping University, Sweden , (Sweden)
  • 3 School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, Peking University, China , (China)
  • 4 Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health, Peking University, China , (China)
Published Article
The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
Sep 03, 2020
DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbaa148
PMID: 32882029
PMCID: PMC7499682
PubMed Central
  • AcademicSubjects/SOC02600
  • AcademicSubjects/SCI02100


Objectives We explored the portrayal of older adults and the public response to topics concerning older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chinese social media (Weibo topics, equivalent to hashtags on Twitter). We also explored the temporal trends of dominant themes to identify changes over time. Method Topics related to older adults were searched in the Weibo topic search engine between January 20 and April 28, 2020. Overall, 241 topics and their view frequency and comment frequency were collected. Inductive thematic analysis was conducted to classify the topics into themes. The popularity of each theme was also analyzed. In addition, the frequency with which each theme appeared during the three major stages of the pandemic (outbreak, turnover, post-peak) was reported. Results Six main themes were identified. “Older adults contributing to the community” was the most prominent theme with the highest average comment frequency per topic. It was also the most dominant theme in the first stage of the pandemic. “Older patients in hospitals” was the second most prominent theme, and the most dominant theme in the second and third stages of the pandemic. The percentage of topics with the themes “Care recipients” and “Older adults caring for the young” increased over time. Discussion The portrayal of older people as being warm, competent, and actively exercising their agency is prevalent on Weibo. The Weibo-viewing public shows signs of interest in intergenerational solidarity during the pandemic in China. These findings are different from findings reported by studies conducted in the West.

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