Political leaders across Europe failed to promote Covid-19 health guidelines on social media in the early days of the pandemic, according to a new academic study.
Research from Glasgow Caledonian University and two universities in Spain analysed Twitter use of political leaders from countries in Europe most affected by coronavirus.
The study found that in the first 40 days of the health pandemic, just 1.9% of Boris Johnson’s tweets related to official health guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
They also found that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO behaved “more like an Instagram influencer” by tweeting quotes from celebrities.
The study focused on images and videos posted by Mr Johnson and Dr Tedros, as well as Emmanuel Macron of France, Pedro Sanchez of Spain, Giuseppe Conte of Italy, and Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.
While Mr Johnson’s tweets contained less than 2% of WHO recommendations, 53.1% of Mr Conte’s, 33.7% of Mr Macron’s and 22.4% of Mr Sanchez’s were relating to guidelines.
Dr Tedros was also criticised for a lack transparency as he had deleted tweets posted before early April.
The paper, entitled European Leaders Unmasked: Covid-19 Communication Strategy Through Twitter, stated: “Some weeks Tedros Adhanom posts more than 300 tweets and some of them are more reminiscent of an Instagram influencer – quoting celebrities and introducing concepts such as ‘Love’ and ’Peace’, without providing any context – than a director of a global medical organisation facing the worst health crisis in decades.
“The leader of the WHO lacks transparency as far as all tweets before April 7 from the Tedros Adhanom profile have been deleted and he has dedicated most of his posts to arguing with other leaders and to justify previous decisions.”
The study also found that all four leaders rarely highlighted hand washing advice – Mr Conte was the highest at 9.3%, followed by Mr Johnson (6.8%), Mr Sanchez (4.8%) and Mr Macron (1.1%).
It concludes that there was a disconnect in the leaders’ Twitter sphere, saying they “failed to use the medium to re-enforce the public health messages with supporting personal actions or values in the pictures and videos they posted”.
It continued: “They did not take advantage of their influential position to show themselves wearing masks, observing social distancing, or following rigorous measures such as regular hand washing.”
Dr Lindsey Drylie Carey, senior lecturer in marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University, and one of the authors of the report added: “The higher the authentic authority of the leader in times of crisis, the easier it is to impose necessary actions and sanctions.
“It seems that the leaders we investigated in this research were not able to portray an adequate level of authentic authority within their communication strategy on Twitter.
“All the leaders mainly used the platform as a news service with very little interest in entering into a two-way dialogue with the users.”