by Cole Pratt, SMACC Student Analyst
There is currently a battle of strategy and resource-empowerment being waged between the United States and China. While this is not necessarily new information, it came to a front on August 24, 2021, when Vice President Kamala Harris went to Vietnam to speak with the country’s officials.
This trip was the first stop on her second leg of her Southeast-Asia tour. Along with donating one million Pfizer Covid vaccines (adding on to the five million already donated), she also urged Vietnamese officials to counteract China’s current operation of taking control of the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a lucrative waterway where trillions of dollars’ worth of resources get transported every year. Various countries in Southeast-Asia hold claims to the waterway, many of whom are our allies and in the United Nations Convention. However, China is trying to take full control and monopolize the waterway to only benefit them and their trade.
I used Meltwater to collect information and gauge public opinion about the topic. Meltwater is a social media analytics tool that allows you to use key words and themes to track discourse on various social media platforms. I decided to create a search with the keywords, Vietnam, Kamala Harris, Human Rights, Worker Rights and China. Additionally, I decided to block the tag of Afghanistan, knowing that I would get disgruntled information as that situation currently overshadows what my primary focus is. By using this tool, I can look at public opinion of this situation, see new and emerging trends regarding my topic, as well as have access to real-time news and updates. I am also able to see which media platforms are covering this topic, where most of the discourse is coming from around the world and see which days in the past month have had the most activity/interaction regarding this topic.
While this event is getting overshadowed by the current situation in Afghanistan, this is still a critical issue in the world’s news, and people are paying attention. The common consensus amongst Twitter users is that Kamala Harris is disrupting peaceful relations between the United States and Vietnam, as Vietnam have publicly stated that they will not align against China. However, negative sentiment is often a direct result of keywords that Meltwater deems as “negative”. For example, as you can see in the above tweets, words like “affected”, “invasion”, and “toppled” do not have a good connotation behind them and is likely a reason why the negative sentiment on this issue is so staggering. Sentiment rating is a tool that Meltwater uses to categorize topics and emerging trends based on keywords. If the social media interactions have keywords that project something negative, they will be categorized as negative sentiment. However, if the posts have keywords that are deemed as positive, then the topic will gain points towards a positive sentiment rating. You cannot gain an accurate impression of sentiment by just looking at the sentiment rating provided by the program. That will require some digging and internal investigation into the individual social media posts.
Looking ahead, this topic may continue to gain traction on social media, or be pushed back, due to the importance of the Afghanistan situation. However, there are thousands of people right now who have an opinion and are actively vocalizing it.
In this analysis, we will look at some of the most popular days (in terms of social media activity and impressions) that propelled this issue to a major talking point in August.
From August 14 to August 15, there was a huge boost in mentions of this topic, from just 532 to 4.17k in just a day. These were the top tweets on August 14:
Another high-impact day was August 24, with 5.48k related tweets and impressions. The most popular tweets on that day, are as follows…
Finally, this topic hit its peak popularity on social media on August 25, with 7.20k tweets about Vietnam, Kamala Harris, and China. Here are those tweets:
While these tweets are the most popular surrounding the issue, it is important to understand why these tweets have the social outreach that they do. All these tweets in the previous three pictures are from users who are verified on Twitter. That means that they are a person of influence, and the platform recognizes them as such. They range from news stations, individual reporters, market, and finance experts to just popular users who have garnered a large following on their platform.
Programs like Meltwater help us see the trending topics circulating social media and allow us to gauge a better understanding of where people stand on the issue. Not only can we see live updates of information by credible sources, but we are allowed access to everyday people who are reacting to these situations unfolding and can garner a sense of what most people think. While the sentiment programming may not be totally accurate, it is still useful to understand what type of posts are going out there and the specific language that they are using.
After analyzing this data, there are some key takeaways that have been observed and expressed through social media. The trip conducted by Harris seemed to be a relief effort to provide the country with additional COVID vaccines, along with spread the message of proper human and worker rights. While she also highlighted her intention for Vietnam to side against China in matters related to the South China Sea, it seems clear that Vietnam has no intention to do that and people on social media are not surprised. Negative sentiment reigned supreme on this specific issue, but it is looking like that stemmed more from the type of language used in the posts, as opposed to people upset about Harris’ trip, or the details about the intention behind it.