Thursday

4th Mar 2021

EU leaders' social media 'fail' in first 40 days of pandemic

  • Communication on Twitter by European politicians at th start of the outbreak was 'individualistic' and 'ineffective', the research found (Photo: European Union)

European leaders of countries hit worst by the first coronavirus outbreak failed to exploit the potential of social media, and their own millions of followers, to encourage citizens to comply with the rules, a new study has found.

The report estimated that video content and social media usage increased 33 percent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But online political communication has mostly centred on Twitter.

The analysis, looking at the Twitter usage of French president Emmanuel Macron, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, Italian former head of state Giuseppe Conte, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, concludes that these politicians missed the opportunity to build leadership and use social media effectively as a principal source of communication with citizens when the pandemic broke out.

"During the health crises of the last decade, social media has played a fundamental role in delivering timely key messages and behavioural instructions to a large part of the population," said Sebastián Sánchez, one of the authors of the study.

"During the dramatic first 40 days [of the pandemic], European communication required clear, compelling and coordinated discourse by political actors. But this did not take place," he added.

"The population was mired in information overload, and it was the population that demanded specific guidelines, the scientific rigour and tranquillity that the leaders are expected to deliver," he warned, arguing that the communication on Twitter of European politicians turned out to be "individualistic" and "ineffective".

The report suggests that leaders also missed an early opportunity to "lead by example" since they did not show themselves wearing masks, washing their hands or practising social distancing in most of their tweets.

EU leaders opted to maintain a "top-down communication strategy" using the microblogging platform mostly as a news service.

The authors criticised, for example, that the length of the videos posted by Sanchez was excessive (an average of 49 minutes) - making it difficult for his followers to quickly understand the key issues.

Additionally, European head of state governments failed to demonstrate an empathy for citizens.

Only Johnson's Twitter use, which combined selfies and other personal pictures, for instance, during his confinement, established direct communication with his followers.

That is important because "the more proximity shown by the leader, the more impact is achieved," the authors note.

Moreover, the prime ministers and leaders who most presented themselves in "a leadership position", such as an office, a press room or the street with a crowd around them, were Macron and von der Leyen.

However, social distancing measures were not always observed in the audiovisual content published by leaders during the first days of the pandemic, representing what researchers have called a "counter-intuitive situation".

Turkey to fine social media giants under new law

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube and TikTok were fined by Turkish authoirties for failing to appoint a representative able to address complaints, as required by a new law.

'Big Five' tech giants spent €19m lobbying EU in 2020

The increased regulatory scrutiny of tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft has triggered a rise in lobbying activities by these companies in Brussels, and, accordingly, an exponential grow of their budget for these activities.

France 'got its way' as Portugal ends e-Privacy deadlock

EU ambassadors reached a compromise on the e-Privacy reform after four years of deadlock, paving the way for trialogue negotiations. But the text was slammed for allowing "mass surveillance" under national data-retention laws, a crucial win for France.

News in Brief

  1. Northern Irish paramilitaries pressure UK and EU on Brexit
  2. Man injures 8 people with axe in Sweden in possible terrorist act
  3. France bans far-right vigilante group
  4. EU dismayed as Lukashenko jails doctor over his diagnosis
  5. Brussels proposes EU-wide 'disabled status' card by 2023
  6. Czechs seek outside help to treat Covid-19 patients
  7. German intelligence to spy on far-right AfD party
  8. Russia belittles latest EU and US sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  2. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week
  3. Relief in EPP group, as Orbán's party finally leaves
  4. EU capitals water down MEPs' ambition in climate law
  5. The EU's perverse agenda in Bosnia
  6. US joins EU sanctions on Russia in show of unity
  7. EU needs to 'raise price' for attacking democracy, MEPs say
  8. EU Parliament to hold Frontex probe behind closed doors

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us