PANCOPOP SYMPOSIUM 2023: Pandemic Communication and Populism


Please scroll down to see the two-day schedule. 

Symposium Location: Hazlerigg Building Jennings, Council Chamber 201.1.12

Dinner Location: Peter’s Pizza

17-18 Baxter Gate


LE11 1TG

United Kingdom

Lunch Location: Elite Hotel, Loughborough University

12/06/2023: Monday Day 1

14:00 – 14:30 Registration and coffee      

14:30 – 14:45 Opening and welcome       

14:45 – 16:30 Panel 1: Pandemic communication in times of populism

Chair: Prof Sabina Mihelj

  1. Health Crisis Communication – Daniel Hallin, University of California San Diego, USA

2. Media Policy – Beata Klimkiewicz and Katarzyna Vanevska, Jagiellonian University, Poland

3. Public Attitudes – Václav Štětka and Francisco Brandao, Loughborough University, UK

4. Media Coverage – Danilo Rothberg and Paulo Ferracioli, São Paulo State University, Brazil

5. Pandemic Geopolitics (Online presentation) – Marlene Laruelle, George Washington University, USA

16:30 – 17:00           Break 30 mins          

17:00 – 18:30 Panel 2: Health communication, public attitudes, and populism

Chair: Dr Václav Štětka

1.‘The argumentative strategies of experts on social media in the users’ perception during the COVID-19 pandemic – an experimental study’ – Karolina Brylska (University of Warsaw) 


The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully reminded us of the great importance of people’s trust in science. In social media, we can see a considerable conflict between disinformation spread by opponents of vaccination and physicians and scientists who try to conduct educational activities on the Internet and explain the value of vaccination and its importance in the fight against the pandemic. It causes that messages created by experts in social media are crucial for the effective fight against the pandemic at the information frontline. To be a valuable tool in this fight, they must be constructed appropriately – be effective in persuasion, i.e. understandable and attractive for recipients (Lerner & Keltner, 2001; Tannenbaum et al., 2015; Ness et al., 2017; Heffner et al., 2020; Jordan et al., 2020; Ojala, 2012; Toma & D’Angelo, 2015; Sundar & Nass, 2001; Borah & Xiao, 2018; Poorisat et al., 2019; Kareklas, Muehling & Weber, 2015; Thon & Jukcs, 2017; Wang et al., 2008).

The presentation will focus on the partial results of a project on the effectiveness of social media posts by medical experts to encourage them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 (project conducted within the “New Ideas” grant, no. 622-62/2021, financed by the University of Warsaw). The presentation will demonstrate how the particular argumentative strategies used by physicians in social media are perceived by supporters and opponents of COVID-19 vaccinations in Poland.

The following RQs were asked in the project:

1. How – in terms of form and content – are the physicians’ messages on vaccination against COVID-19 in social media structured? 2. What are the types of messages regarding vaccination against COVID-19 published by physicians on social media? 3. What type of expert announcements is persuasive for those sceptical about COVID-19 vaccination?

The study was carried out on three experimental groups and a control group (approx. 30 persons each), composed of students of social studies and humanities, divided according to their attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccination: (1) unvaccinated, (2) sceptical about vaccinations to some extent, but vaccinated, (3) enthusiastic about vaccinations and fully vaccinated.

The presentation will explore the argumentative strategies used in the posts studied. Then two types of data will be presented regarding the reception of this content – strategies: (1) evaluation performed using a questionnaire (including comprehensibility, attractiveness, persuasive potential and educational value) and (2) selected results of eye tracking and face tracking measurements of respondents. Thus, the author will answer the question of which argumentative strategies were received and perceived better (attracted more visual attention and evoked more positive emotional engagement). Biometric measurements were made using Tobii Pro Fusion 120 Hz eye tracker and Affecitva AFFDEX technology, integrated within the iMotions software.

2. ‘Combating Hoax, Bridging Knowledge: The Role of Health Professionals as Digital Communicator on Twitter’ – Niken Febrina Ernungtyas (University of Indonesia) 


This is an ongoing research project related to the role of health professionals who combat the hoax and bridge the knowledge on the digital platform Twitter. Social media, particularly Twitter, play a significant role in health discourses. Social media have become the main source of health information. At the same time, it also contains and spreads false information. False health information is a threat to healthcare services – negative implications on the disease prevention process, health communication as well as public trust in healthcare institutions. On the other side, the number of followers that medical doctors have on Twitter has increased, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The medical doctor is still perceived as a credible and trusted source to deliver health information and messages to the public. Health information from medical doctors both in direct and mediated communication is more credible compared to other sources. In Indonesia, public access to health information from authorities or the government is not equally distributed. Literacy on health information in Indonesia may be low due to the average low level of education. Social media and health professionals bring the public access to health information as well as interactive, two-way communication.

This study will focus on the sender of the health messages on Twitter in the Indonesian context. In this case, health professionals are medical doctors, nurses, medical laboratory scientists or health scientists who actively and progressively convey health information on Twitter. The objective of the research is to explore the role of health professionals as digital communicators to communicate health information, combat false health information, and educate the public related to health.

The research will use a qualitative approach with in-depth interviews as a data collection method. Interviews will be conducted with the health professionals who have an active account on Twitter. The health professionals’ accounts must actively deliver health information, reply to public questions related to health, respond to false information, combat the hoax, and/or correct the public confusion on particular health issues. The informant selection strategy will use snowball sampling. The strategy is used due to the reason that there are many health professionals who use anonymous accounts rather than reveal their real identities as health professionals. The initial contact will be started by one to three accounts that visibly showed their identity as a health professional including real name, academic title, and or explanation on the Twitter bio. Each initial contact will be asked to recommend five other accounts which considered to fit the criteria. The interview questions consist of four main issues: (1) usage and utilization of Twitter both for personal or professional purposes; (2) involvement in combating hoaxes on Twitter; (3) endorsement of healthcare institutions on digital communication; and (4) communication skill of the health professional.

3. ‘Comparative evidence on populist demands toward science and implications for science communication: Findings from a large-scale global population survey’ – Niels G. Mede, Viktoria Cologna (Harvard University), John Besley (Michigan State University), Sebastian Berger (University of Bern), Cameron Brick (University of Amsterdam), Marina Joubert (Stellenbosch University), Edward W. Maibach (George Mason University), Sabina Mihelj (Loughborough University), Naomi Oreskes (Harvard University), Mike Schäfer (University of Zurich), and Sander van der Linden (University of Cambridge)


In many countries worldwide, populists have cultivated resentment against foundational societal institutions, including science – both in political discourse and within the attitudes of single segments of the population. Populist leaders like Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, and Jair Bolsonaro claimed that ‘academic elites’ are corrupt, follow political agendas, and produce knowledge that is inferior to the common sense, everyday experience, and gut feeling of ‘the common people’. Scholars conceptualized this form of resentment as science-related populism – and showed that it can shape citizens’ attitudes in different countries, erode public trust in science, and interact with people’s media diets, both during and beyond public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. However, extant research still offers only limited insights into science-related populist attitudes in non-Western countries.

We addressed this limitation with a global survey project: the TISP project. It involves a pre-registered, large-scale, online population survey with n ≈ 62,000 respondents in k ≈ 70 countries on all continents, including various countries from the ‘Global South’. The survey includes post-hoc weighted quota samples and is organized within an innovative Many Labs research infrastructure. It is currently being conducted (i.e., between November 2022 and February 2023).

This unique data set will allow us to investigate how science-related populist attitudes (measured with the 8-item SciPop Scale; Mede et al., 2021) as well as trust in science (measured with a novel 12-item scale) interact with how people inform themselves about scientific topics, including health issues like pandemic diseases. We will be able to assess variations across countries and test if such variations are associated with the degree of populist rhetoric in political discourse by using a country-level indicator based on work by Norris (2020). Moreover, we plan to examine further potential correlates of science-related populist attitudes that have not been studied before, such as public expectations about whether science should prioritize public health research over other goals and whether scientists should take active roles in policy-making and science communication.

These analyses will provide valuable novel evidence on links between populism, communication behaviour, and science attitudes. It can facilitate the development of effective health communication as well as science communication strategies and science policies more generally – and may also inform further scholarship on related phenomena, such as disinformation and polarization.

4. ‘The Role of Emotion in Shaping Pandemic Responses among Those with Anti-intellectual and Populist Views (US)’ – Ariel Hasell (University of Michigan), Annie Zhang (University of Michigan), Brianna Zichettella (University of Michigan), and Sedona Chinn (University of Wisconsin-Madison).


The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted existing challenges in public communication about health and science. In the U.S., these challenges have always included distrust of elites and experts in media, government, and research institutions. However, messages from conservative and populist leaders have amplified these challenges. Previous research has explored the connection between populism and anti-intellectualism, finding them to be similar but discrete constructs that independently influence attitudes and behaviors related to COVID-19.

Our study further explores these relationships by investigating how emotions directed towards the scientific community’s and the U.S. federal government’s pandemic response mediate relationships between populism and anti-intellectualism on trust outcomes and COVID-19 mitigation behaviors.

We draw on data from a two-wave national online survey (YouGov) collected in the U.S. in December 2020 and March 2021 (N = 942). The survey used a matching approach to generate a sample reflective of the U.S. population in terms of age, gender, race, education, and income. Our main independent variables include populist orientation and anti-intellectualism, and our main dependent variables include trust in science, trust in government, and COVID-19 mitigation behaviors (i.e., self-isolating if exposed to covid, get vaccinated, etc.). We also measured individuals’ emotional responses to the scientific community’s and the federal government’s handling of the pandemic (anger, anxiety, and positive responses).

We find populism has little direct association with trust in science and COVID-19 mitigation behaviors when accounting for anti-intellectualism. In contrast, anti-intellectualism is associated with decreased trust in science and government over time and decreased willingness to engage in COVID-19 mitigation behaviors.

When we consider the mediating role emotional responses, we find that anti-intellectualism is associated with more anger and anxiety towards the scientific community compared with populism. We also find that populism is associated with more anger towards the government’s pandemic response than anti-intellectualism, though both populism and anti-intellectualism are associated with decreases in trust in government. Anger toward both the scientific community and the federal government are associated with decreased willingness to engage in COVID-19 mitigation behaviors.

Our results help explain how populist and anti-expert attitudes may have impacted COVID-19 mitigation behaviors via their association with emotions targeted towards different actors (scientific versus governmental). This has implications for understanding processes of public health messaging in a crisis, including how to communicate accurate health information to populations that actively distain expertise. These findings are also important for media practitioners and policy makers to understand the effects that outrage media and hostility toward experts may have on current pandemic response and experts’ ability to manage future crises.

19:30  Dinner             

13/06/2023: Tuesday Day 2

08:30 – 09:00 Morning Coffee         

09:00 – 10:15 Panel 3: Elite communication, populism, and religious rhetoric during a public health crisis 

Chair: Dr Katarzyna Vanevska

1. ‘Who told us to stay home? An analysis of speaker prominence in COVID-19 crisis communication’ – Lore Hayek Martin Senn, and Sarah C. Dingler (University of Innsbruck)


In early 2020, governments across the world resorted to the format of press conferences to instruct their publics how to deal with the arising COVID-19 pandemic. This main tool of communication was used to persuade the public to follow measures constraining personal life and, in turn, convince the citizens of the government’s effectiveness in dealing with the pandemic. Despite their importance, thus far, no study has systematically analysed the set-up of these press conferences.

To fill this gap, this paper answers the following research question: which factors influence the speaker prominence on COVID-19 crisis communication? We argue that in the early phase of the pandemic, when governments faced unprecedented challenges, factors at the government- (e.g., party ideology), the pandemic- (e.g., incidence rate, sector mostly affected at the time) and country-level (e.g., political system) call for different actors (gender, seniority, role, area of expertise), and this speaker selection plays a role in determining communication strategies of governments.

To test these propositions, we draw on a unique dataset of all press conferences held in 17 OECD countries and 3 US states between the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. The analyses of 1167 speeches by 442 actors reveals that governments’ crisis communication is more similar than expected, and that irrespective of party ideology, governments mainly adapt their strategies ad hoc to the severity of the pandemic. These findings imply that when facing a similar crisis at the same point in time, communication strategies are rather shaped by the actual situation than by ideological concerns or country constraints.

2. ‘Health crisis communication, local administration and populism: The case of Italy’ – Marina Villa (Catholic University of Milan)


My paper analyses the crisis communication of the Presidents of Italian Regions during the first 2 months of the pandemic. In Italy, Covid 19 spread rapidly and the role of the local administrations in communicating with citizens became central. There was also an acceleration in the use of social media by public sector organizations during the pandemic.

Italian public health system is decentralized and the Regions are autonomous in the management of health services in their territory. The President of the Region is elected by the citizens and this grants a qualifying political legitimacy. The President of the Region can shape the political direction aimed at making a consistent government action in the regional context and, direct the administrative functions delegated by the State to the Region, promulgate laws, and issue regional regulations.

With the spread of a contagious virus, the concentration of decision-making powers explains the regulatory and media prominence assumed by the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the Regions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the regional Presidents became the centre of political decisions and saw their media visibility increased. Their social media activity intensified and their followers multiplied (in 60 days the followers of the sixteen Presidents who had a Facebook account increased by 105,61%).

For some of them the communication took on populist overtones. First of all, in polemical confrontation with the central state, they manifested disagreements/conflicts with the government. This was useful to show their strength towards the Government and to take the lead on the territorial presidium of the safety of the population. Certainly, this contrast was used to redefine the regional Presidents’ space of intervention, and their positioning in terms of centre-periphery dialectics. Also, it was sometimes used in a highly personalized political arena to obtain personal political consensus and to intervene in the national debate.

Secondly, there is the attempt to establish direct contact with citizens and to present oneself as the sole interpreter of their needs: for this purpose of going to the public, the numerous Facebook live streams have been a less institutional and more popular and direct channel. Lastly, it is interesting to observe the relationship between the Presidents and the scientific actors that were very present in the crisis communication in many Regions.

I study the 16 Presidents’ Facebook crisis communication with content analysis and discourse analysis. I focus in particular on the communication of four end-of-term regional Presidents that ran for re-election in 2020 (the vote was scheduled in March, then postponed to September 2020). These four Presidents were re-elected with high percentages of votes and this suggests that the incumbent Presidents have been able to turn the emergency contingency to their advantage, to increase the personal consensus, which they already enjoyed on the territory.

3.‘Analyzing Paradoxes of Populist Religious Rhetoric during COVID-19 in Pakistan: Drivers of Public Perceptions and Behaviors’ – Muhammad Usman Asghar & Saman Choudary (Pompeu Fabra University)


According to Dawn news report, approximately more than 250,000 members of the Tableeghi Jamaat (One of the largest and mainstream Muslim religious group in Pakistan) from within and around the world had attended the religious congregation at the Raiwind Markaz, Lahore on 10th March, 2020 (DAWN, 2020). Subsequently, massive scores of followers tested positive for the virus that had to quarantine at the site and Pakistan had to halt the international flight operation. This particular incident refers to a unique situation where COVID-19 pandemic challenged almost all domains of human life, likewise religion and religious rituals across the globe.

There are many similar accounts of public discourse, sacralised in religious indoctrinations, conditioning pandemic as an over-rated or terrifying concept by certain religious groups. As a result, public attitude towards the pandemic guidelines and precautions were rather casual in Pakistan. This situation further intensified the challenge of containing the spread of the disease and posed a greater hurdle in effectively responding to evolving pandemic at that time. In this backdrop, this study primarily focuses on two research questions from the lens of populist approach towards the pandemic: (1) what was the initial religious rhetoric about the evolution of pandemic in Pakistan? (2) What was the paradox of pandemic communication that shaped public perceptions and behaviours towards COVID-19 in Pakistan? This research aims to answer these two questions by unfolding the role of populist religious rhetoric in tackling pandemics and subsequent development of public attitudes. Religion plays the key role in conditioning the public attitudes, either positively as helpful or otherwise being detrimental towards extraordinary situation like pandemics. 

This study seeks theoretical guidance from the “Speech Act Theory”, where religious speech acts by contemporary religious leaders are analysed and referred to as discursive narrative-building moves. In order to analyse these religious speech acts, discourse analysis methodology is adopted to find out the meaning-making processes through discursive moves referred to as religious speech acts. These religious speech acts are available on social media in the form of sermons, speeches, written messages and published material. This study attempts to analyse the popular religious rhetoric at the time of pandemic and its sacralization for probable impact on crisis communication strategy in Pakistan. Religious rhetoric has a great potential in tackling the pandemic situation as populist leaders also tend to quote and refer divine guidance in their discourses. The study will contribute to the larger debate on populism during the pandemic (health crisis) and will help to build an understanding of some of the key drivers of populist religious rhetoric during times of pandemic.

10:30 – 10:45 Coffee break 15 min            

10:45 – 12:30 Panel 4:  News consumption and media use during the COVID-19 pandemic

Chair: Prof Beata Klimkiewicz

1. ‘News consumption, public perceptions of news coverage and attitudes to restrictions in the UK: A longitudinal study’ – Francesca Hannay (Ofcom)


The News Consumption Survey is an annual project ran by Ofcom every year. The aim of this report is to inform understanding of news consumption across the UK and within each UK Nation. This includes sources and platforms used, the perceived importance of different outlets for news, attitudes towards individual news sources, international and local news use. It also provides an understanding of current affairs consumption among adults and news consumption among 12–15-year-olds. During the pandemic, questions were included that explored public perceptions of news coverage of the pandemic and various restrictions. In addition to this, Ofcom conducted further research that monitored how people were getting news and information about the crisis, their attitudes towards it and the official advice about Covid-19 and what false or misinformation they had come across. This project was run for 47 weeks in 2020 and 2021.

2. ‘Trusting peers and public discourse: navigating numerical disinformation on personal messaging platforms’– Brendan Lawson, Andrew Chadwick, Natalie-Anne Hall, and Cristian Vaccari (Loughborough University)


During the pandemic, a sea of data washed into public discourse. Some of this quantitative information was useful to make sense of the pandemic. But certain statistics, league tables and metrics held a distinct power to persuade, confuse and manipulate people. Despite the power of numerical disinformation, relatively little is known about how people engaged with numbers in the media environment during COVID-19. To address this gap, we explore the role of numerical disinformation in peoples’ everyday use of personal messaging platforms through a large set of qualitative interviews (Wave 1 n=102, Wave 2 N=80, panel retention = 78.4%). We find that people do not see numbers as certain, objective facts. Instead, they are positioned as biased, technical and verifiable. From this basis, participants actively engage in establishing the trustworthiness of these numbers. Taking a contextual and relational approach to information trust, we outline three practices: contextualising peers’ motivations, trusting peers’ numerical ability and expertise, and relying on public discourse as a source for numbers. Importantly, the findings demonstrate an interaction between personal messaging and public discourse that allows participants to assess the trustworthiness of the numbers they come across. Taken together, these practices provide a complex, nuanced and holistic account of how numerical (dis)information flowed into personal messaging platforms during the pandemic – and how users on these platforms established the numbers they could trust to make sense of COVID-19. 

3. ‘Youth, COVID-19, and Popular Imaginaries. Young adults’ Negotiation of Socio-health Elements and Guidelines during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ – Chikezie E. Uzuegbunam (Rhodes University)


Among the salient aspects of the multifaceted research on COVID-19 is the topic of public perceptions, attitudes and behaviours during the different stages of the pandemic. This paper explores the perceptions, imaginaries, and behaviours of young people with regard to elements of the pandemic that they deemed important, as well as how they navigated various pandemic information, health guidelines and pandemic politics from political, religious and cultural quarters. Young people are one of the social groups at the centre of health communication in the digital age. They are “informavores” – actively seeking out, gathering, consuming, and sharing information to meet a variety of needs. As a result, they could play a part in obtaining and disseminating crucial health information to peers and other significant social groups. 

In this study, focus groups and semi-structured interviews are used to examine the popular narratives and discursive practices among thirty-three 18 to 30-year-olds in two major Nigerian urban towns. Findings traverse both individual and shared health-related attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, impacts, and risk perceptions regarding socio-health issues related to COVID-19, such as social distance/social relations, masking, hand washing, sanitising, lockdown/movement restrictions, vaccine/vaccination, infection, testing, and treatment. People’s cognition, attitudes, behaviours, and risk perceptions were impacted by the level of infodemic and, consequently, misinformation they experienced during the pandemic. Young adults primarily relied on digital sources such as the Internet and social media as well as social support systems for health-related information about the pandemic. Young adults’ self-efficacy and risk perceptions in their handling of the pandemic run throughout the data, as well as the role of affect and emotions in this. The attitude towards the pandemic dilated through various stages, beginning from when news about it first broke out, to the time national lockdown was announced, to the period the lockdown was eased and the subsequent vaccination rollout. There was the perception that Nigeria adopted “copy and paste solutions” in dealing with the pandemic. COVID-19 disbelief or denialism was observed in several accounts. 

Other common beliefs were religious and political, such as the notion that the pandemic was politicised and, as a result, was a political stunt that led to the labelling of the government and corporations as a “community of liars”. The pandemic had several impacts on young people, including mental health issues and the economic spiral deeply felt by many in a country where there was non-existent social security or welfare plan for citizens. There were several anecdotes, with reasons, of participants admitting that they or their family members, co-workers, and close friends contracted the virus but recovered without undergoing testing. One of the most contentious and drawn-out topics throughout the discussions with young adults was the subject of vaccines and vaccination. There were only a handful of participants who were fully vaccinated. There is an observed level of vaccine lethargy, ‘vaccinformation’ void, vaccine misinformation, vaccine distrust, and vaccine inaccessibility, in the data.

In addition, there are significant interdependencies which influence the young adults’ imaginaries and concerns, including sociocultural intermediaries, religious and political actors, and the socioeconomic conditions of Nigeria. The study is significant in offering a clear understanding of how contextual, evidence-based insights from key social groupings might be important for deepening the knowledge of health crises as well as for designing, piloting, deploying and assessing public health interventions.

4. ‘Young people sharing populist content about COVID-19 on social media: A case study from Slovakia’ – Hedviga Tkácová (The Catholic University in Ruzombero)


Disclosure of information with a populism nature has attracted increasing attention of internet users in recent years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this kind of information posed a real threat due to credibility of information, radicalization of society (authoritarian, anti-vaccination views), push for urgent structural (health, government and other) changes, or support feelings of harm and/or fear. On the internet an active audience was a distributor also of populist media content about COVID-19 because users were convinced of their truth, and on the online environment they found it in other people’s opinions and views. As we could see during the pandemic, the audience seems to be not only an active amplifier of populist information (sharing), but also explicitly as a creator of populist web content (its sharing, commenting as well as creating). Researchers confirm that user’s willingness to share questionable information, such as populist information or even misinformation, is linked to people’s same attitudes, to the similarity of people’s faith or for example to the perception of the message considered as interesting. The aim of this paper is to contribute to the identification of the character of socially sharing populism, which in the online environment represents a type of populist communication, which is deeply influenced by the specificity of contemporary social media and the specificity of active audience within social media. The aim of our own research is to identify and classify the motives that lead university students to share populist information about COVID-19 on social networks. The research brings up several significant motives, which lead young people to share populist information with the distinguishing features of students based on gender and school performance.

5. ‘#SOS Alerts, Social Media and COVID-19 Second Wave in India‘ – Rubal Kanozia (Central University of Punjab), Robin Jindal (Central University of Punjab), Nidhi Sharma (Guru Nanak Dev University), Akshad Kumar (Kurukshetra University)


The novel coronavirus of 2019 (COVID-19), belonging to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2) family, has become a global health issue. More than 211 million people got infected by this virus across the globe and 4.42 million lost their lives till August 2021 (World Health Organization, 2021a). The second wave of COVID-19 in March-April 2021 turned out to be the biggest when the number of infected cases surged over 414,000 in May 2021 (India Coronavirus Map, 2021) and an oxygen crisis emerged in the country with the increase in the number of #SOS alerts on social media.

Several research studies agree that when used effectively, social media can be useful in crisis management (Goolsby, 2010; Artman et al., 2010; Gliet, Zeng, & Cottle, 2014; Saleem, 2015; Brynielsson et al., 2017). Social media is a popular medium in India, with around 448 million users as per Datareportal’s Digital 2021 Report (Kemp, 2021). With a huge social media user base, it is quite striking to see how Indians used social media during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The article entitled #SOS Alerts, Social Media and COVID-19 Second Wave in India is an attempt to analyze the role of social media as a medium for providing relief assistance during the oxygen crisis amid COVID-19 Second Wave in India through the analysis of popular social media posts and news reports. The study revealed that social media has acted as a saviour in India’s struggle to meet oxygen needs and essential requirements during the COVID-19 second wave through #SOS alerts, message amplification, crowdsourcing information, and connecting people to provide COVID-19 relief aid.

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch (1.30h) – Elite Hotel

14:00 – 15:30 Panel 5: Crisis, journalism, and media coverage  

Chair: Prof Danilo Rothberg       

 1. ‘News Platformisation and the Dimensions of Europeanization: the Italian case during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ – Risi Elisabetta (IULM University)


In this article, we explore the extent to which the platformisation of news offers the conditions to understand how public opinion concerning Europeanisation can be formed, particularly during moments of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Currently in Europe, media production and consumption unfold along social media platforms typically owned by non-European companies. What we observe is the corporate takeover of the digital world (Smyrnaios 2018) by an oligopoly of platforms that have not only acquired unrivalled distribution power, but also attribute greater visibility to specific content through algorithms (Gillespie 2018; Napoli, Caplan 2017; Napoli 2021), this conditioning the media in their choice of topics and formats to adopt (Siapera 2013).

As identified in the literature, news platformisation is characterised by key trends as polarization and toxic debate, fake news, populism, as well as more positive or neutral phenomena such as regeneration of social capital, synergy with traditional media, alternative media projects, to name a few.

Considering the platformization of news, linked to the more general mechanisms of deep penetration of reality by platforms (van Dijck, Poell 2013), it is crucial to investigate the role acquired by news concerning European issues circulating on media platforms, because the European dimension has rarely been dominant in (social) media history. Furthermore, some of these news shows a high level of users’ engagement and gain traction through algorithmic selection, acquiring serious potential to impact public opinion of Europe, in Europe and, specifically, in Italy.

Thus, by considering the Italian case, we selected a sample of 720 posts extracted between September-November 2021, from Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and we subjected it to both content and discourse analysis.

Our findings offer us a picture of how Italian social media during a specific period of time, have focused on certain issues relating to Europe that constitute the Europeanisation themes that are most present on the agenda of the platforms. The findings also take into account differences between the contents published by media agents (on platforms) and user-generated content. Our findings show that the selected sample was dominated by populist rhetoric focussing particularly the European themes of European law & governance, European Culture and European institutions. These themes constituted an opportunity for politicians and platformed media to showcase their own positions in favour or against European policies. Specifically, the strategy used was to compare between measures imposed in Italy and those of other European countries in order to gain traction and popularity through populistic rhetoric.

2. ‘Disaster coverage in Brazil and Argentina: Comparing COVID-19 and natural disaster coverage’ – Juan Manuel Francisco Cozzi (University of Rovira and Virgili)


In this study, we focus on systematising and analysing the modalities of journalistic representation that disasters (natural, environmental, and health) acquire in the main printed press media of two countries Argentina and Brazil. 

This research reveals the representations of the phenomena studied in Argentina and Brazil at three different times: a period determined by the pre-pandemic COVID-19 scenario, where we analyse news events related to natural disasters in both countries (between the months of January and December 2019); a second period determined by the irruption of the global pandemic produced by the COVID-19 virus (between the December 2020 and January 2021).

In the first sections of this work, we go through theoretical and contextual contributions that allow us to situate the construction of the journalistic agenda around the social phenomena analysed. While in the following sections, we focus on systematising the results of the analysis of the communication strategies deployed by the government agencies in Argentina and Brazil to face natural disasters and the health crisis produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, taking the front pages of the printed editions of the main graphic media of Brazil and Argentina.

We start our analysis of the media coverage of COVID-19 and natural disasters associated with climate change by developing the following objectives: (1) Examine media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters associated with climate change. (2) Establish the hierarchy that each of the printed media gave to these topics. (3) Analyse the prevailing evaluative tone on communication and risk management policies promoted by governments and non-governmental organisations throughout the observed periods.

To successfully complete these objectives, we carried out an exploratory work, based on the theory of the agenda setting through the content analysis of a corpus consisting of 780 pages recovered day by day of the newspapers Clarín, La Nación and Page 12 of Argentina, and O’ Globo, Correio Braziliense and Folha de Brasil. The newspapers of each country were selected based on the highest circulation rates at their national level.

The systematisation of the collected data was carried out through the preparation of an analysis sheet, where formal aspects of each medium, quantitative data of the coverage made and qualitative aspects of the representations made were recorded: each piece of information was classified according to its relevance, topic, source, and valuation.

3. ‘Covid, Conflict & Communication (3Cs): News consumption trends in Kashmir pre- & post- pandemic’ – Ruheela Hassan & Syed Aadil Hussain (Islamic University of Science and Technology)


The Kashmir skirmish is reportedly one of the ‘world’s most dangerous conflicts’ (Ehl 2019), that has claimed thousands of lives since 1989. The political and social developments in the valley since the India-Pakistan partition in 1947 have made the people news addicts. However, the news media of the valley is largely confined to the newspaper industry, as there are no local television channels. Some local cable television networks in Srinagar and other districts had started channels that telecast evening news bulletins in the first decade of the 21st century, but the bulletins and current affairs programs were permanently banned by the government citing many reasons. The news on private FM as well as community radio is also banned and are only allowed to air news from All India Radio without adding or altering the content. This makes the government-owned radio and television channels the main sources of broadcast news in Kashmir.

Although the nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic was launched in March 2020, the valley was already experiencing strict restrictions on communication dissemination and movements since August 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 that provided special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. The year 2019 has been one of the dramatic political eruptions in Kashmir (Khan 2019). For the valley, it was a lockdown followed by another lockdown. While political news usually dominated the news space in the pre-pandemic era due to political turmoil, the news coverage and content changed variedly during the pandemic. As the new waves of the pandemic were knocking the world, the valley was also experiencing other turbulences – decades-old regional political parties lost their powers and new policies and regulations were being made. Even a new media policy was announced in the summer of 2020, which was protested by local news editors, calling it a ‘violation of press freedom’ (Zargar 2020). 

The paper aims to study the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the news content, coverage, and consumption of newspapers in Kashmir during the pre- and post-pandemic era. A hybrid of methodologies will be adopted for the paper that will involve secondary analysis as well as a collection of primary data from relevant respondents. A wide range of literature that comprises news articles, audio-visual content, organizational reports, journal papers, books, interviews, etc. will be consulted and analyzed to accomplish the objective of the study. Additionally, interviews with journalists, news editors, and communication professionals will also be conducted to study this change.

4. ‘Attacks on journalists and media freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic: The Indian case’ – Sanviti Iyer & Mochish KS (FLAME University)     


India is considered to be one of the largest democracies in the world, but the much-celebrated ‘liberal’ nature of the democratic system has not been complimentary with the idea of free and independent media. According to the 2022 World Press Freedom Index rankings by the RSF, India ranks 150 out of 180 countries. One of the important indicators that the index bases the ranking on the level of violence against the journalists. The rankings are reflective of declining press freedom and increasing attack on journalists. The attack on journalists in India has intensified mainly in the last two decades. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian government has cracked down on the press by reprimanding all forms of dissent regarding their policies. This has resulted in journalists from various parts of the country being arrested, detained and harassed for critical reportage of various government institutions.

The much-debated Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 was enforced during the bubonic plague in India by the colonial rulers. This act, along with the Disaster Management Act 2005, was implemented to invoke curbs to contain the spread of coronavirus in India. Enforcement of both acts has invited officials to misuse the policies to attack journalists’ autonomy while reporting the truth. The proposed paper aims to examine the consequences of the infodemic on the safety of journalists in the context of declining press freedom in the country as well as the enforcement of the aforementioned acts. The focus is to highlight how the laws introduced to ‘contain’ the spread of the virus have been used as a tool to gatekeep the truth regarding the implementation of coronavirus policies by way of stifling the voice of journalists.

The paper will analyse nine case studies that highlight the attack on journalists in India during the pandemic. The time period chosen for the analysis is from the 25th March 2020 to the 5th August 2020. The rationale for this is that both the acts were enacted in multiple states during the national lockdown, which coincides with the period chosen for the study. The specific cases have been chosen to represent the attack on journalists in diverse geographical locations in the country. The analysis involves looking at each case study closely to understand its distinctive features and how it informs the larger socio-political narratives. Each case study will be studied on the basis of the cases filed against the journalists, who the cases were filed by, the laws used and the subsequent action taken. The impact of the case on the journalist’s personal autonomy and career, as well as the reaction of civil society to the case, will also be looked at, providing a larger context about media freedom and reaction to same in India.

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee break 30 mins          

16:00 – 17:30 PANEL 6: Debating vaccination

Dr Paulo Ferracioli

 1. ‘Whose Responsibility for the Common Good? The MMR Vaccination in Serbia’ – Marija Brujic (University of Belgrade)


In this presentation, I examine news media coverage of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccination controversy and the 2023 measles epidemic in Serbia. The proliferation of the MMR debate in the media is concurrent with the gradual decline of the MMR childhood vaccination in post-socialist Serbia, and represents a local response to the global MMR controversy. The aim of my presentation is twofold. First, I will answer how Serbian newspapers presented the MMR vaccine controversy before and during the COVID-19 pandemic (2019-2023). Additionally, I question whether the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the media MMR vaccine narrative. For this reason, I use quality content analysis of the press and combine several framing approaches. In total, 115 articles dealing with the MMR vaccine were . 

The results show that the media outlets identified the anti-vaccination lobby as the main culprit for the fall in MMR  and the rise of measles epidemics although there were no anti-vaccine stories in the press since 2017. The pandemic situation was the other cause of the significant drop in the MMR intake during 2020-2023. However, according to my analysis, the press coverage ignored other sociopolitical causes for this outcome, for example, the lack of public health education and proactive vaccination campaigns highlighting the benefits (but also the slight risks) of vaccination, or the absence of any official provisions for compensation in individual cases of proven vaccine side effects. My study indicates that the vaccine  reflects principally widespread health insecurity’ emerging from the post-socialist transformation.

2. ‘#EveryChildSafe: Instagram as a tool for public communication of science in the children’s vaccination campaign against Covid-19’  – Renata de Oliveira Miranda Gomes & Christiana Soares de Freitas (University of Brasília)


Access to information and transparency is essential for a government to ensure the population’s trust and promote the economic development of society, mainly through the promotion of social participation. Moreover, science communication is essential for Brazilian society to be able to effectively participate in the national debate (Caldas & Zanvettor, 2014). Public Communication of Science, when done properly, can bring the population closer to public actors through dialogue and active listening of important topics that affect collective interest.

Manuel Castells states that communication “is the sharing of meaning through the exchange of information” (2017, p. 101). Public communication can, therefore, establish citizens at the centre of national debate, and make the expression of their own positions possible with the certainty that they will participate and be heard (Duarte, 2007; Weber, 2007). Public communication of science, therefore, requires the exchange of information between sender and receiver, government, and society (Bucchi & Trench, 2021). In this way, it can be a public action (Lascoumes & Le Galés, 2012), developed from a process of collective construction that demands the exchange of experiences, active listening, and responsiveness based on the requests made.

The Internet and digital platforms are an integral part of life in society. Platforms are digital infrastructures that shape interactions between online users and are organized through data collection, algorithm processing, and information monetization (Poell, Nieborg & Van Dick, 2020). Digital platforms are precisely an intermediary agent for social interactions on the web (D’Andrea, 2020). But can this tool be used for effective communication between government and society in a time of public health crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, when information about science was rapidly changing and in desperate need?

This article seeks to understand whether the social media platforms of government agencies promote public communication of science, and if so, how these processes take place. For that, it proposes a case study of the children’s vaccination campaign against Covid-19 conducted by the State Health Department of São Paulo on Instagram. The State of São Paulo was chosen for being the largest one in Brazil, it’s pioneering in the acquisition of vaccines and continuous opposition to President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-vaccination policy (Alves, 2022).

The study is based on a content analysis (Krippendorff, 2004; Bardin, 1977; Sampaio & Lycarião, 2021) of the 226 posts published by the Health Secretary’s Instagram account between 16 December 2021 (the date on which the application of the Pfizer vaccine was authorized in Brazil) and 17 April 2022 (when the Brazilian Government declared the end of the Covid-19 public emergency). In addition, it analyses 1,620 comments published on the posts that mention children’s vaccination to understand how the public communication of science took place on this platform.

3.‘Populism and Technocracy: so Far, yet so Close? The Polarization of Belgian Public Debate on Covid-19 Vaccine’ – Coline Rondiat (University of Louvain)


Beyond health emergency, the pandemic fostered a different but equally pervasive crisis in Belgium – one of political legitimacy. From the outset, disagreements on how and by whom political decision should be made have indeed questioned the locus of political power. Such discussions notably heated up the tension between populism and technocracy (Esmark, 2021). On one hand, the need for efficient policies triggered the temptation of technocratic depoliticization. On another hand, the leading role of scientific elites fuelled a populist backlash, relying on the mushrooming of epistemic uncertainties to cast doubt upon political measures. More fundamentally, populism and technocracy carried radically diverging views on the best way to quell the virus, consistent with their own understanding of democracy. As a consequence, their interplay substantially nourished the polarization of public debate, and eventually public opinion, on covid-19 management. Such polarization effects may also have been further enhanced by the common rather than conflicting ground they share, since both actually embody a critique toward ‘party democracy’(Bickerton & Accetti, 2017).

Accordingly, this paper provides an in-depth analysis of populism and technocracy interplay in the Belgian public debate. To do so, it conducts a qualitative analysis (Antaki et al., 2003) of social/news media discourses produced by Belgian experts and policymakers on the contentious issue of covid-19 vaccination. Taping on recent scholarship (Moffitt, 2015; Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017; Nava et al., 2020), populism and technocracy are considered discursive practices rather than being approached from a behavioural perspective. Starting from these premises, this study hinges on three main axes of analysis. Firstly, it explores the content and the nature of populist and technocratic discourses (how was the issue of vaccination informed by populism and technocracy and, inversely, what features or themes of populism and technocracy were dominant in such a debate?). Secondly, it assesses the effects these styles produced on the dynamic and polarization of the public debate (what were the areas of convergence and divergence of populism and technocracy? how did populism and technocracy contribute to the polarization of covid-19 vaccination debate?). Thirdly, it appraises how these findings relate with political theory (what does it say about the quality of democratic debate in times of crisis?) and, more broadly, with the existing literature on populism and technocracy.

4. ‘Science communication in a digital age: political positions in the COVID-19 vaccine discussions’ – Jana Sverdljuk (University of Agder)


In the presentation, I will reflect on what politicized positions came up as a response to the scientific efforts to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine in such popular microblogging service as Twitter. Additionally, I will investigate how did the regional differences, and especially the Global North/Global South divide, play into the formation of these positions. A worrying tendency was that the criticism of modernity, which during a long time served as an established constructive line of argumentation within academia and among some progressive politicians, was manipulated to serve the interests of far-right political forces. For example, Trump supporters in North America expressed mistrust to the scientific progress and modernity and came up with a conspiracy about the so-called “big pharma”. They put forward a package of old-fashioned, retrograde and anti-egalitarian ideas. In a different way, although not denying, but supporting local science, the supporters of the Indian Prime Minister N. Modi were misusing the post-colonial discourse and its constructive criticism of modernity to claim power ambitions of Indian political elite. We see that during the pandemic, Twitter has become a place of a sharp polarization between progressive and retrograde forces, while the latter actively use the methods of “stealing” the arguments from, and discrediting the work of the radical left. The paper reflects on the role of the populist means of self-expression (short messages, borrowing, imitating and re-branding the well-known cultural mottos) in science communication. The materials include a corpus of over 50 million tweets in English in a period from January 2020 to September 2021 for which both quantitative (Structural Topic Modelling) and qualitative (Critical Discourse Analysis) methods were employed. 

17:30 – 17:45 Closing remarks and farewell