Examining Public Concerns and Attitudes toward Unfair Events Involving Elderly Travelers during the COVID-19 Pandemic Using Weibo Data.


Liu X(1)(2), Ye Q(1)(2), Li Y(1)(2), Fan J(1)(2), Tao Y(1)(2).
Author information:
(1)The Key Laboratory of Road and Traffic Engineering of the Ministry of Education, Tongji University, Shanghai 201804, China.
(2)College of Transportation Engineering, Tongji University, Shanghai 201804, China.


The Chinese government has launched a digital health code system to detect people potentially exposed to the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) disease and to curb its spread. Citizens are required to show the health code on their smartphones when using public transport. However, many seniors are not allowed to use public transport due to their difficulties in obtaining health codes, leading to widespread debates about these unfair events. Traditionally, public perceptions and attitudes toward such unfair events are investigated using analytical methods based on interviews or questionnaires. This study crawled seven-month messages from Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, and developed a hybrid approach integrating term-frequency-inverse-document-frequency, latent Dirichlet allocation, and sentiment classification. Results indicate that a rumor about the unfair treatment of elderly travelers triggered public concerns. Primary subjects of concern were the status quo of elderly travelers, the provision of transport services, and unfair event descriptions. Following the government's responses, people still had negative attitudes toward transport services, while they became more positive about the status quo of elderly travelers. These findings will guide government authorities to explore new forms of automated social control and to improve transport policies in terms of equity and fairness in future pandemics.