In a recently published report called Moldova Vaccine Monitor – January 1 – June 30, 2021, we studied Facebook data gathered by the International Republican Institute’s Beacon Project, via CrowdTangle, in an effort to better understand foreign narratives, especially Russian and Chinese ones. Below you can find a summary of this report.
We analyzed the first six months of 2021 and limited ourselves to the 20 Moldavian Facebook public pages that had the most posts containing a set of keywords referring to the vaccine conversation, like “vaccine” or names of vaccines in circulation. Among them we included the two Sputnik Facebook pages and StirileProTV, a top tier, credible Romanian news source, which has a large following in Moldova.
It is worth mentioning that during the surveyed period (January 1 – June 30, 2021), Moldova experienced political turmoil, with the Parliament being dissolved to make way for early elections, which ultimately were won by Partidul Acțiune și Solidaritate (PAS). This political turmoil probably had a polarizing effect on social media discourse, impacting other subjects like the vaccine conversation.
Our overall conclusion was that the Facebook vaccine discussion in Moldova has been quite balanced, taking into consideration that it is a vulnerable country to disinformation and it is always between the East and the West in terms of ideology. That being said, of course there were multiple examples and indicators of malign foreign narratives, especially Russian.
Looking at the whole picture, we noticed that the keyword “vaccine”, with its derivates, registered 7,45k mentions, while the top three vaccine names were “AstraZeneca”, with 2,12k posts, “Pfizer” with 1,78k posts and “Sputnik”, with 1,46k posts (January-May) which coincides broadly with the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic in Moldova this year.
When drilling down into the data, in order to see what did the two Sputnik Facebook pages mostly posted in this time frame, we managed to identify three types of narratives, as described below:
- Sputnik Facebook pages and websites refer to the inefficiency of Western vaccines and dangerous side effects.
- The promotion of the Sputnik V vaccine and the repeated mention of the help offered by the Russian Federation.
- Articles were controversial individuals but who have large social media followings are cited, using their statements to promote the Russian vaccine and Russian narratives.
China was also an important player in terms of vaccine diplomacy. Beijing donated 150,000 Sinopharm produced vaccine doses and Chișinău purchased 100,000 Sinovac produced doses as a result of a direct negotiation with the Chinese. The day of the donation ceremony of Sinopharm vaccines (27 March) coincides with the day with the second most mentions of the keyword “sinopharm”.
In June, we see some changes compared to the situation for the whole first six month the keyword “sputnik” was first in the analyzed posts, with 243 posts, “astrazeneca” second, with 201 posts and “pfizer” third with 189 posts, a change from the overall trend for the entire six months interval.