PLoS One. 2022 Jun 22;17(6):e0268409. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0268409. eCollection 2022.
INTRODUCTION: The use of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an “infodemic” of mis- and disinformation with potentially grave consequences. To explore means of counteracting disinformation, we analyzed tweets containing the hashtags #Scamdemic and #Plandemic.
METHODS: Using a Twitter scraping tool called twint, we collected 419,269 English-language tweets that contained “#Scamdemic” or “#Plandemic” posted in 2020. Using the Twitter application-programming interface, we extracted the same tweets (by tweet ID) with additional user metadata. We explored descriptive statistics of tweets including their content and user profiles, analyzed sentiments and emotions, performed topic modeling, and determined tweet availability in both datasets.
RESULTS: After removal of retweets, replies, non-English tweets, or duplicate tweets, 40,081 users tweeted 227,067 times using our selected hashtags. The mean weekly sentiment was overall negative for both hashtags. One in five users who used these hashtags were suspended by Twitter by January 2021. Suspended accounts had an average of 610 followers and an average of 6.7 tweets per user, while active users had an average of 472 followers and an average of 5.4 tweets per user. The most frequent tweet topic was “Complaints against mandates introduced during the pandemic” (79,670 tweets), which included complaints against masks, social distancing, and closures.
DISCUSSION: While social media has democratized speech, it also permits users to disseminate potentially unverified or misleading information that endangers people’s lives and public health interventions. Characterizing tweets and users that use hashtags associated with COVID-19 pandemic denial allowed us to understand the extent of misinformation. With the preponderance of inaccessible original tweets, we concluded that posters were in denial of the COVID-19 pandemic and sought to disperse related mis- or disinformation resulting in suspension.
CONCLUSION: Leveraging 227,067 tweets with the hashtags #scamdemic and #plandemic in 2020, we were able to elucidate important trends in public disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.