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Comunicar Journal 69: Citizen participation in the digital sphere (Vol. 29 - 2021)

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


Oscar Luengo

Javier García-Marín

Emiliana de-Blasio


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.


Public sphere, YouTube, cyberpolitics, deep learning, polarisation, COVID-19

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