Thursday

13th May 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.

News in Brief

  1. No EUobserver newsletter on Friday 14 May
  2. Germany stops Facebook gathering WhatsApp data
  3. Italy rebuts reports of EU deal with Libya
  4. MEPs demand EU states protect women's reproductive rights
  5. At least nine dead in Russia school shooting
  6. Bulgaria interim government appointed until July election
  7. German priests defy pope to bless same-sex couples
  8. New EU public prosecutor faults Slovenia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU aims at 'zero pollution' in air, water and soil by 2050
  2. French police arrest Luxembourg former top spy
  3. Vaccine drives spur better-than-expected EU economic recovery
  4. Slovenia causing headaches for new EU anti-graft office
  5. 'No place to hide' in Gaza, as fighting escalates
  6. EU chases 90m AstraZeneca vaccines in fresh legal battle
  7. Fidesz MEP oversees FOI appeals on disgraced Fidesz MEP
  8. Belgium outlines summer Covid relaxation plans

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us