On Twitter, links to pro-chloroquine studies circulate more and longer | Science

Twitter profiles that advocate early treatment, and that are considered to be on the conservative right, are more engaged in sharing scientific studies and news about the pandemic and COVID-19. Links on the subject have a lifespan 1.5 times longer in right-wing groups than in left-wing groups or medical professionals, according to a study by FGV DAPP.


Pro-chloroquine and ivermectin group tries to guide public debate on Twitter (Image: Agência Bori/Divulgação)

The survey gathered 3.3 million posts made on the social network, published between January and May 2021. In addition, the study identified a total of 1,156 domains responsible for the publications, which generated a total of 300,000 interactions — mentions, responses and shares .

The publications involve topics such as early treatment, vaccination, encouragement of isolation measures and the use of masks. FGV separated the profiles that interacted with posts that made scientific claims about the pandemic and the coronavirus into 4 groups:

  • the first brings together profiles that advocate for early treatment against COVID-19, with conservative politicians and influencers;
  • the second, composed of parliamentarians and left-wing influencers;
  • the third, with health professionals and physicians; this group has scientific influencers such as Youtuber and biologist Átila Iamarino
  • and a fourth group with epidemiologists, journalists and infectious diseases associations.

The last three echo links about the ineffectiveness of chloroquine and ivermectin against the coronavirus, as well as Jair Bolsonaro’s delay in obtaining vaccines.

Scientific links on early treatment circulate more

Researchers say the right-wing group was the only one who shared controversial URLs — with information disputed by official sources.

Among the 10 links with the highest average circulation on Twitter, 5 advocate early treatment, while 4 talk about COVID-19’s CPI and the ineffectiveness of chloroquine.

The most shared sites on the right are hyper-partisan domains, from sites like West Magazine and Free Tuesday. These, according to the study, disseminate “pseudoscience”.

Meanwhile, in the groups made up of health professionals and epidemiologists, the most shared links are from news outlets such as newspapers Folha de São Paulo and The globe, and sites like UOL and G1.

Right shares more medical journal links

On Twitter, when it comes to links to international medical journals, such as the platform medrxiv.org, the right is also more engaged. The pro-early treatment group shared the most articles from the WHO (World Health Organization), with 68% of the total.

WHO links were shared by all groups, but are mostly publicized by the conservative right (Image: Jernej Furman/Flickr)

WHO links were shared by all groups, but are mostly publicized by the conservative right (Image: Jernej Furman/Flickr)

Studies of The Lancet, another important medical publication in the midst of scientific dissemination, was also more publicized by the group that advocates early treatment, with 62% of shares — the cluster that advocates for the ineffectiveness of chloroquine and ivermectin accounts for 14%.

Researcher Victor Piaia, from FGV DAPP and one of those responsible for the study, tells the Techblog that the group that favors chloroquine and ivermectin mostly share preprints: studies that have not yet been peer-reviewed.

“In fact, this group mediates: when the press and health authorities do not corroborate the information they want to confirm, they go straight to the preprint to prove their ideas.”

Victor Piaia, from FGV DAPP

The large circulation of scientific links about COVID in right-wing groups is also reflected in the average time: within this cluster, URLs usually stop circulating 240 hours after their initial release. In the other three groups, this “useful life” drops to 100 hours.

On Twitter, pro-chloroquine group interacts more

Even accounting for only 21% of Twitter profiles compiled in the survey, the purple cluster advocates early treatment attracts the highest volume of interactions, with 41%. In contrast, the left group, marked in blue, accounts for 23% of users but only 34% of interactions.

The orange group, made up of health professionals such as doctors, has only 11% of interactions on Twitter, even though it is the most numerous, with 30% of the profiles. The green group, with press professionals, epidemiologists and infectious diseases associations, has the smallest contingent (9%) and engagement (7%).

FGV DAPP map reveals that the right-wing group is the third smallest in terms of users, but the one with the most interactions (Image: FGV DAPP/Publishing)

FGV DAPP map reveals that the right-wing group is the third smallest in terms of users, but the one with the most interactions (Image: FGV DAPP/Publishing)

The base of the right-wing group, in addition to being more active in spreading links about science in the pandemic, is more cohesive and interacts less with other groups.

FGV found that the pro-early treatment group has boosted 743 sites on Twitter, but 328 are unique domains: this means that the vast majority of shares (90% or more) are within a single cluster. This corresponds to 44% of the total URLs advertised.

For comparison purposes, the left on Twitter has mobilized less towards pages that confirm the ideological bias, with 41% of shared sites being truly exclusive. That percentage drops to the single digits in the medical and epidemiologist groups.

Finally, Piaia emphasizes the Techblog that the right is the one who tries to guide the scientific debate about the pandemic on Twitter:

“The group [de direita conservadora] it doesn’t have such a reactive characteristic, but it tries to guide the debate, looking for preprints, studies, materials. He is competing in the public debate and has a dynamic of his own.”

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