When Politicians Meet Experts: Disinformation on Twitter About Covid-19 Vaccination

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access | Ahead of Print | Last Modified: 21 March 2022

When Politicians Meet Experts: Disinformation on Twitter About Covid-19 Vaccination

  • Concha Pérez-Curiel Department of Journalism II, University of Seville, Spain
  • José Rúas-Araújo Department of Audiovisual Communication and Advertising, University of Vigo, Spain
  • Rubén Rivas-de-Roca Department of Journalism II, University of Seville, Spain

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Abstract:  The Covid-19 vaccination has meant a huge challenge for crisis communication. After months of lockdowns, mass vaccination was a silver lining moment, but it was under threat from disinformation boosted by misinformation on social media. This research explores how opinion leaders among political leaders and health experts used Twitter to create and manage messages about the vaccination process. Specifically, we show the issues (issue frame) and strategies (game frame) applied by these actors. This study employs a corpus on the words “Covid-19” and “vaccines” used on Twitter by the heads of government and 10 recognized health experts (two for each country) in the US, the UK, France, Portugal, and Spain. We also analyze the accounts of fact-checking projects on those countries (@PolitiFact, @FullFact, @decodeurs, @JornalPoligrafo, and @maldita). The sample allows the comparison of countries with different political cultures that participated differently in the production of vaccines. The data were captured from the beginning of the vaccination drive (December 14th, 2020) until most of the population above 60 were vaccinated (May 14th, 2021). A manual content analysis was performed on the tweets (n = 2,607). The results illustrate that the politicians mostly disagreed with experts regarding issues and strategies. This finding can foster distrust in the elites and, therefore, threatens the long-term success of a public health campaign. Our study contributes to discussions on the role of networks for social cohesion, arguing that the public conversation on Twitter about the vaccination has revealed high levels of controversy.

Keywords:  Covid-19; disinformation; experts; fact-checking; public communication; public health; social cohesion; Twitter; vaccination

Published:   Ahead of Print

Issue:   Impact of Social Media on Social Cohesion (Forthcoming)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v10i2.4955

© Concha Pérez-Curiel, José Rúas-Araújo, Rubén Rivas-de-Roca. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.