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COVID-19’s impact on global discourse – and the rise of Locust-19

By Yasmin CrowtherVP Client Partnership, Strategic Insight & Sustainability

Everyone knows that COVID-19 has supersaturated global discourse in homes, online and in the media. The questions we get asked about this at Polecat are: ‘how much has COVID-19 impacted conversation about other topics’; ‘how is it changing debate’; and ‘what is the direction of travel?’

It’s our job to answer these questions and so we turned our advanced analytics platform to the challenge – generating the picture of global discourse that you see below.

What we are looking at is global conversation since October 2019 around universal global topics of interest, including COVID-19, that also reference any 1 of over 1000 of the world’s largest public and private companies.

Global conversation around universal topics vs Covid-19

Volume of global discourse around universal topics since Oct-19 vs Covid-19

To get a sense of the size of the COVID-19 conversation, take note of the two margins. The one on the left refers to the coloured lines reflecting conversation about climate change, #MeToo, migration and unemployment. At its peak at the end of last year, climate change was generating around 300,000 online posts (traditional and social media) every day. By comparison, the margin on the right reflects conversation about the shadowed area representing COVID-19 and is in the order of millions of posts per day.

Our recent analysis with BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) shows that rather than obliterating these topics, COVID-19 is tending to reframe and redefine conversation – particularly when it comes to questions of climate change, biodiversity, inequality, treatment of workers, and building-in greater resilience to future economies.

At the same time as being able to track the dynamics of one of the world’s largest conversations, Polecat is also able to spot early signals of new emerging discussions. And in the wake of COVID-19, we are seeing a new tide of conversation related to what is being given the moniker Locust-19 – a term coined by the African Development Bank to describe the swarms of locusts that have plagued Africa since December, with Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan heavily impacted.

A locust swarm of just more than a third of a square mile is reportedly able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, posing a critical threat to food security in a region where malnourishment is already widespread and COVID-19 has left communities further weakened in their ability to tackle the challenge. Where WHO is in the spotlight for guiding the global response to COVID-19, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme are engaging to help protect the millions of lives now threatened with starvation by Locust-19.

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