COVID-19 on YouTube: Debates and polarisation in the digital sphere

Luengo, Oscar and García-Marín, Javier and de-Blasio, Emiliana COVID-19 on YouTube: Debates and polarisation in the digital sphere. Comunicar, 2021, vol. 29, n. 69, pp. 9-19. [Journal article (Paginated)]

Text (Research article (English))
c6901en.pdf - Published version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.

Download (1MB) | Preview
Text (Research article (Español))
c6901es.pdf - Published version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.

Download (1MB) | Preview

English abstract

Social media has significantly transformed how political discussions and deliberations occur, mainly by providing a digital realm for the public sphere. This study aims to analyse the extent of polarised opinions across Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom regarding COVID-19 during 2020 within social media. To do this, we examined YouTube comments (n=111,808) using automatic analysis and machine-learning techniques based on algorithms. This methodological strategy denoted an innovative and unique quantitative approach for this field of study. In line with previous research, the hypothesis was that the degree of polarization does not crystallize in the same manner in different countries’ digital spheres. Therefore, it could be said that higher levels of polarization occur amongst Southern European countries like Spain and Italy (both countries adhering to a polarised pluralism model), compared to other countries ascribing to the liberal model (the United Kingdom in our study), which provides evidence supporting previous research studies. The results confirmed the hypothesis that the polarization of digital deliberation between Spain and Italy is higher than in the United Kingdom. But, also, the findings based on more disaggregated analysis suggest that the most polarized attitudes are even rewarded by other users in Mediterranean countries.

Spanish abstract

Las redes sociales han transformado de forma muy significativa la forma en la que se produce el diálogo político, impulsando una configuración digital de la esfera pública. El presente artículo tiene como objetivo el análisis de la deliberación producida en las redes sociales, con un especial énfasis en la polarización. Tomando como referencia los comentarios observados en YouTube sobre la COVID-19 durante 2020 en España, Italia y Reino Unido, lo cual arroja una muestra de 111.808 comentarios, se aplicaron una serie de técnicas automáticas de análisis basadas en algoritmos, lo que supone una metodología cuantitativa novedosa en este ámbito de estudio. En línea con lo señalado por trabajos previos, la hipótesis que se plantea en este artículo es que el grado de polarización no se da con la misma intensidad en las esferas digitales de distintos casos. De esta manera, cabe esperar unos mayores registros de polarización en la esfera digital de los países del sur de Europa, adscritos a un modelo de pluralismo polarizado, que en países de otros modelos como el liberal. Los resultados confirman la hipótesis, verificando que no solo se observa mayor polarización en España e Italia que en Reino Unido, sino que, a nivel desagregado, los hallazgos apuntan a que la actividad más polarizante obtiene mayor aprobación en los países mediterráneos de nuestra muestra.

Item type: Journal article (Paginated)
Keywords: Public sphere; YouTube; cyberpolitics; deep learning; polarisation; COVID-19; Esfera pública; YouTube; ciberpolítica; aprendizaje profundo; polarización; COVID-19
Subjects: B. Information use and sociology of information > BJ. Communication
G. Industry, profession and education.
G. Industry, profession and education. > GH. Education.
Depositing user: Alex Ruiz
Date deposited: 21 Dec 2021 12:00
Last modified: 21 Dec 2021 12:00


Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211-36.

Allgaier, J. (2019). Science and environmental communication via online video: Strategically distorted communications on climate change and climate engineering on YouTube. Frontiers in Communication, 4(36), 1-18.

Arias-Maldonado, M. (2016). La digitalización de la conversación pública: Redes sociales, afectividad política y democracia. Revista de Estudios Políticos, 173, 27-54.

Bakshy, E., Messing, S., & Adamic, L. (2015). Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook. Science, 348(6239), 1130-1132.

Berry, C., Kim, S., & Spigel, L. (2010). Electronic elsewheres: Media technology and the experience of social space. University of Minnesota Press.

Bimber, B. (1998). The Internet and political transformation: Populism, community, and accelerated pluralism. Polity, 31(1), 133-160.

Blumler, J. (2018). The Crisis of Public Communication 1995-2017. Javnost – The Public, 25(1-2), 83-92.

Boxell, L., Gentzkow, M., & Shapiro, J. (2017). Greater Internet use is not associated with faster growth in political polarization among US demographic groups. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(40), 10612-10617.

Boxell, L., Gentzkow, M., & Shapiro, J. (2020). Cross-country trends in affective polarization. National Bureau of Economic Research.

Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia second life, and beyond: from production to produsage. Peter Lang.

Conover, M., Ratkiewicz, J., Francisco, M., Gonçalves, B., Menczer, F., & Flammini, A. (2011). Political polarization on twitter. In N. Nicolov & J.G. Shanahan (Eds.), Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (pp. 89-96). The AAAI Press.

Dahlberg, L. (2004). The Habermasian public sphere: A specification of the idealized conditions of democratic communication. Studies in Social and Political Thought, 10, 2-18.

Davis, A. (2019). Political communication: A new introduction for crisis times. Polity.

Demsar, J., Curk, T., Erjavec, A., Gorup, C., Hocevar, T., Milutinovic, M., Mozina, M., Polajnar, M., Toplak, M., Staric, A., Stajdohar, M., Umek, L., Zagar, L., Zbontar, J., Zitnik, M., & Zupan, B. (2013). Orange: Data mining toolbox. Python. The Journal of machine Learning research, 14(1), 2349-2353.

Dougan, M., & Smith, A. (2016). The political environment on social media. Pew Research Center.

Druckman, J.N., & Levendusky, M.S. (2019). What do we measure when we measure affective polarization? Public Opinion Quarterly, 83(1), 114-122.

Fleig, A., & von-Scheve, C. (2020). Introduction: Public spheres of resonance – Constellations of affect and language. In A. Fleig, & C. von-Scheve (Eds.), Public spheres of resonance. Constellations of affect and language (pp. 1-16). Routledge.

Fletcher, R., & Jenkins, J. (2019). Polarisation and the news media in Europe. European Parliamentary Research Service.

Fletcher, R., Cornia, A., & Nielsen, R.K. (2020). How polarized are online and offline news audiences? A comparative analysis of twelve countries. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 25(2), 169-195.

Fuchs, C. (2017). Social media. A critical introduction. Sage.

Fung, A., Gilman, H.G., & Shkabatur, J. (2013). Six models for the Internet and politics. International Studies Review, 15(1), 30-47.

García-Marín, J., & Calatrava, A. (2018). The use of supervised learning algorithms in political communication and media studies: Locating frames in the press. Comunicación & Sociedad, 31(3), 175-188.

Gidron, N., Adams, J., & Horne, W. (2019). How ideology, economics and institutions shape affective polarization in democratic polities. [Conference]. Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association, Washington DC, United States.

Gozálvez-Pérez, V. (2011). Education for democratic citizenship in a digital culture. [Educacio?n para la ciudadani?a democra?tica en la cultura digital]. Comunicar, 36, 131-138.

Gruzd, A., & Roy, J. (2014). Investigating political polarization on Twitter: A Canadian perspective. Policy & Internet, 6(1), 28-45.

Hallin, D., & Mancini, H. (2004). Comparing media systems. Three models of media and politics. Cambridge University Press.

Iyengar, S., Lelkes, Y., Levendusky, M., Malhotra, N., & Westwood, S.J. (2019). The origins and consequences of affective polarization in the United States. Annual Review of Political Science, 22, 129-146.

Jaidka, K., Zhou, A., & Lelkes, Y. (2019). Brevity is the soul of Twitter: The constraint affordance and political discussion. Journal of Communication, 69(4), 345-372.

Lee, J.K., Choi, J., Kim, C., & Kim, Y. (2014). Social media, network heterogeneity, and opinion polarization. Journal of Communication, 64(4), 702-722,

Letsche, T.A., & Berry, M.W. (1997). Large-scale information retrieval with latent semantic indexing. Information sciences, 100(1-4), 105-137.

López-García, G. (2005). Modelos de comunicación en Internet. Tirant Lo Blanch.

Margetts, H. (2009). Public management change and e-government: The emergence of digital-era governance. In A. Chadwick, & P.N. Howard (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics (pp. 119-131). Routledge.

Mason, L. (2014). ‘I disrespectfully agree’: The differential effects of partisan sorting on social and issue polarization. American Journal of Political Science, 59(1), 128-145.

Meyer, D., Hornik, K., & Feinerer, I. (2008). Text mining infrastructure. Journal of Statistical Software, 25(5), 1-54.

Morlino, L., & Sorice, M. (2021). Quello che abbiamo appreso. In Idd. L’illusione della scelta. Come si manipola l’opinione pubblica in Italia. Luiss University Press.

Olsson, E.J. (2013). A Bayesian simulation model of group deliberation and polarization. In F. Zenker (Ed.), Bayesian argumentation: The practical side of probability (pp. 113-133). Springer.

Oz, M., Zheng, P., & Chen, G. (2018). Twitter versus Facebook: Comparing incivility, impoliteness, and deliberative attributes. New Media & Society, 20, 3400-3419.

Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. Penguin.

Prior, M. (2007). Post-broadcast democracy: How Media choice increases inequality in political involvement and polarizes elections. Cambridge University Press.

Reese, S., Rutigliano, L., Hyun, K., & Jeong, J. (2007). Mapping the blogosphere: Professional and citizen-based media in the global news arena. Journalism, 8(3), 235-261.

Rowe, I. (2014). Incivility 2.0: A comparative analysis of incivility in online political discussion. Information, Communication & Society, 18(2), 121-138.

Rubio, R. (2000). Internet en la participación política. Revista de Estudios Políticos, 19, 285-302.

Scheufele, D.A. (2001). Democracy for some? How political talk both informs and polarizes the electorate. In R.P. Hart, & D. Shaw (Eds.), Communication and U.S. elections: New agendas (pp. 19-32). Rowman and Littlefield.

Schlesinger, P. (2020). After the post-public sphere. Media Culture and Society, 42(7-8), 1545-1563.

Serrano-Contreras, I., García-Marín, J., & Luengo, O.G. (2020). Measuring online political dialogue: Does polarization trigger more deliberation? Media and Communication, 8(4), 63-72.

Sorice, M. (2020). La ‘piattaformizzazione’ della sfera pubblica. Comunicazione Politica, 3, 371-388.

Spohr, D. (2017). Fake news and ideological polarization: Filter bubbles and selective exposure on social media. Business Information Review, 34(3), 150-160.

Stromer-Galley, J., & Wichowski, A. (2011). Political discussion online. In M.C. Ess (Ed.), The handbook of Internet studies (pp. 168-187). Wiley-Blackwell.

Sunstein, C.R. (2008). 2.0. Princeton University Press.

Sunstein, C.R. (2018). #Republic: Divided democracy in the age of social media. Princeton University Press.

Valera-Orgaz, L. (2017). Comparing the democratic value of Facebook discussions across the profiles of Spanish political candidates during the 2011 General Election. Revista Internacional de Sociología, 75(1), 1-15.

van-Dijck, J., de-Waal, M., & Poell, T. (2018). The platform society public values in a connective world. Oxford University Press.

Volkmer, I. (2014). The global public sphere: Public communication in the age of reflective interdependence. Polity.


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item