Gaetano Scaduto Moreno Mancosu

Crocodile tears? The visual contents on Instagram of populist and mainstream before and during the pandemic

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This contribution aims at investigating the changes in visual communication by Italian political leaders on Instagram during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Using a dataset including all the posts published by the main Italian political leaders from September 20th, 2019 to September 20th, 2020 (n = 6,865) and using face and emotional recognition algorithms, we analyze the differences in the visual content proposed by populist and mainstream political actors. Results indicate that populist right leaders (Salvini and Meloni) are more likely to employ a visual communication directly representing the leader and portraying a positive framework (the image of the smiling leader) with respect to mainstream leaders. Furthermore, right-wing populists prove to be more able than their mainstream counterpart to adjust their communication in relation to the pandemic, showing a rapid decrease of images that show them smiling in the toughest phases of the first wave. The contribution also represents an exercise aimed at showing how machine learning algorithms – and specifically computer vision tools – represent a useful device for studying online communication


  • Covid-19 pandemic
  • populism
  • Italy
  • Instagram
  • personalization
  • computer vision


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