The rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created a desire for
information about the virus and government-directed response efforts.
Twitter is a popular mechanism for disseminating crisis information, but
questions exist about what government sources citizens trust enough to
share their posts (“retweet”) as well as the types of language which
encourage sharing. This study examines trust in U.S. government
officials and organizations during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sharing of U.S.- and COVID-specific tweets from government accounts
acts as a proxy for trust, representing implicit confidence in these
units to provide credible information. This study investigated whether
significant differences in the retweet frequency of government sources
existed based on the source (public officials, public agencies,
federal-level, or state-level, Republican-led states, or Democrat-led
states) and differentiated by time period (pre- or post-declaration).
Retweets were also examined to determine whether linguistic factors
predicted the retweet frequency. The post-declaration period was found
to have significant impact, with more active federal and state accounts.
Significant group differences suggest greater trust in state-level
sources versus federal sources (especially Democrat-led states), as well
as public officials versus public agencies. Emotion-related language was
also shown to predict the frequency of retweeting, though impacts
differed based on the source.