European political leaders failed to explain anti-COVID measures when the pandemic broke out

According to an international study in which UPV and UV researchers have taken part, “communicative European policy during the dramatic first 40 days of the pandemic required clear, compelling and coordinated discourse by political actors. But this did not take place.”Esteban Galán

An international study in which researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) and the University of Valencia (UV) took part, has analysed the contents of the Twitter accounts of different European political leaders during the first 40 days of the crisis caused by the pandemic. The use given to this communication channel proved to be ineffective at promoting measures such as washing hands or social distancing. The research also concludes that these political figures were unable to take advantage of social networks and their millions of followers and promote their leadership among the population.

The study, published in the Profesional de la Información journal, shows that European political figures such as Pedro Sánchez, Conte, Macron or Johnson, were unable to take advantage of their position of influence to disseminate messages that really reached the population and encouraged them to comply with the rules established to prevent spreading the virus. According to the authors, these politicians missed the opportunity to “appear using a mask, respecting social distance or promoting hygiene measures.”

UV researcher Sebastián Sánchez highlighted that: “European communicative policy during the dramatic first 40 days of the pandemic required clear, compelling and coordinated discourse by political actors. But this did not take place. The flow of communication on Twitter of European leaders, in charge of the most affected countries, turned out to be individualistic and ineffective before the health challenge. These leaders wasted the opportunity to lead by example, which is an essential component of true leadership.”

Meanwhile, Esteban Galán, researcher at the Department of Audio-visual Communication, Documentation and the History of Art at the Gandia campus of the UPV, says that “the novelty of this research resides in the fact that the analysis fundamentally focuses on studying the image that the leaders projected through the photographs and videos they published on their personal accounts during the first four weeks of the pandemic.” The international nature of the research facilitated broad coverage in the United Kingdom and has made it possible to find patterns that repeat themselves among the main leaders of the European countries most affected by the first wave of the pandemic. “The results of this study are being very useful to continue this line of research with a second study which will analyse the role that the public media in Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom have played in creating a tale on the pandemic,” says Galán.

The results of the research show that the analysed European leaders barely showed aspects of confinement in their daily lives. Furthermore, they highlight aspects such as that the length of the videos of the Spanish prime minister was excessive, and did not allow his followers to easily understand the important issues. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson did not appear in any publication wearing a mask.

This article, in which Lindsey Drylie Carey from the Glasgow Caledonian University also participated, shows data on the dissemination, the issues, the presence of the recommendations of the WHO or the staging of the publications of representatives Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sánchez and Giuseppe Conte.

Meanwhile, the study also analyses the case of Tedros Adhanom, president of the World Health Organization who, according to the authors, on occasion showed “a behaviour closer to that of an Instagram influencer rather than the director of a global health organization during one of the worst health crises in decades,” due to his publications citing celebrities and taking part in discussions with other political figures. The authors are aware of the importance that giving an image of authority and leadership has for these people, and that the multidirectional communication that social networks offer can be essential to win over the confidence of the citizens. Despite this, the communication strategies used only consisted of conveying institutional messages and images which hardly manage to establish efficient communication with the citizens.

Article:

Drylie-Carey, Lindsey; Sánchez-Castillo, Sebastián; Galán-Cubillo, Esteban (2020). “European leaders unmasked: COVID-19 communication strategy through Twitter”. Profesional de la información, v. 29, n. 5, e290504.

https://doi.org/10.3145/epi.2020.sep.04