Anti-intellectualism amid the COVID-19 pandemic: The discursive elements and sources of anti-Fauci tweets


Anti-intellectualism (resentment, hostility, and mistrust of experts) has become a growing concern that influences public understanding of science during the pandemic. Using topic modeling and supervised machine learning, this study examines the elements and sources of anti-Fauci tweets as a case of anti-intellectual discourse on social media. Based on the theoretical framework of science-related populism, we identified three anti-intellectual discursive elements in anti-Fauci tweets: people-scientist antagonism, delegitimizing the motivation of scientists, and delegitimizing the knowledge of scientists. Delegitimizing the motivation of scientists appeared most frequently in anti-Fauci tweets. Politicians, conservative news media, and non-institutionalized masses co-constructed the production and circulation of anti-intellectual discourses on Twitter. Anti-intellectual discourses resurged even under Twitter’s content moderation mechanism. We discuss theoretical and practical implications for building public trust in scientists, effective science communication, and content moderation policies on social media.

May 27, 2022
72nd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association
Paris, France
Jacob A. Long
Jacob A. Long
Assistant Professor of Mass Communications