The study analyzes publications on Twitter that claim scientific status in order to bring forth arguments of authority in messages regarding Covid-19, including the adhesion or criticism of protective measures, the application or non-application of vaccines, degree of danger of the virus, among others. The 3.3 million posts that compose the corpus of the research were published between January and May 2021. Of the four identified clusters, the one that garnered the most engagement mainly dealt with the defense of early treatment and was positioned in the right-wing conservative field in alignment with the government of Jair Bolsonaro. The other three clusters reacted to this, including health professionals, sanitary authorities, epidemiologists, journalists, as well as progressive and left-wing influencers. In the group aligned with the government, the longevity of links that resort to science in order to argue about Covid-19 was 150% higher than in the other three clusters identified, which indicates that, despite not always grounding themselves in scientific parameters in order to base their arguments, the right-wing conservative cluster explores the status of science in order to defend their point of view.
Covid-19; Twitter; science; pseudoscience; public sphere.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
- The cluster that attracted the highest volume of interactions (41.5%) on Twitter was composed of users aligned with the conservative right-wing field, defending early treatment protocols for Covid-19. This is not the first, but the third cluster in terms of quantity of profiles connected with each other. Therefore, even with 21.5% of the profiles, this group worked separately as a vector of messages that preach the efficacy of early treatments. The most populous cluster, with 29.6% of profiles, was composed of health professionals, scientists and sanitary authorities that allude to the lack of evidence of the early treatment protocols, among other topics, and is the third in terms of interactions (11.6%). The second cluster in interactions (34.5%) and profiles (24.9%) is represented by the left-wing field, with criticisms directed to the federal government. In turn, the smallest cluster (9.5% of profiles and 7.7% of interactions) is composed of epidemiologists, journalists and associates of infectiology who also criticized the management of the pandemic by the Jair Bolsonaro administration.
- Among the five domains with the most mentions, responses and retweets by the cluster that defends the early treatment, all are vehicles of the conservative right-wing media and hyperpartisan. Domains of websites of the traditional press occupied the five first positions of the cluster connected to the health professionals and sanitary authorities, sharing the space with websites editorially oriented to the left, in groups of opposition to the government, and to the right, in the group more connected to the center-right wing.
- The average lifespan of links in circulation about the subject was of 100 hours in three of the four clusters. An exception happened in the cluster supporting early treatment, where the duration increased to 250 hours. Considering the ten most lasting links, the cluster defending early treatment is the only one where controversial URLs that propagate pseudoscience could be identified. Those are anonymous websites that are constantly refuted and invalidated by the scientific community. The most durable link circulated for 159 days and it is an example of this practice in defense of the early treatment, as well as others with longer lifespan. In turn, the three less durable links circulated for around 85 days and are all from the media outlets.
- The cluster favorable to the early treatment was the one that isolated most exclusive/predominant domains. That means that, in 44% of the links, 90% of the mentions, responses and retweets occurred inside the cluster itself. A significative percentage of isolation of informative sources occurred in the cluster that gathers users who criticize the government and who are aligned with the left wing, where 31% of the links circulate predominantly.
- It is also worth noting, also, that the cluster that defends the efficacy of the early treatment was the group that most shared six of the fourteen scientific domains that were shared among all of the clusters.