The Hydroxychloroquine Tweets: The Cure Story

Over 14,000 tweets with the hashtag #hydroxychloroquine over a few weeks shows a story that the people who follow the hashtag could get the impression that HCQ is a possible cure for the disease.

On June 3, 2020 the New England Journal of Medicine published an article where the findings stated: “After high-risk or moderate-risk exposure to Covid-19, hydroxychloroquine did not prevent illness compatible with Covid-19 or confirmed infection when used as postexposure prophylaxis within 4 days after exposure.” This is an example of one of the reports in a respected science outlet that casts doubts on the efficacy of the contested medicine. This debate is well summarized in the August 8 article in Pharmacy Practice News:

“Although the jury is not yet in, more evidence from well-done studies is finding little to no benefit for the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine as a treatment or prophylaxis for COVID-19. Several institutions, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are so convinced by this evidence that they stopped their studies of the drugs for COVID-19. And the FDA issued a warning about possible serious adverse events and then rescinded its emergency use authorization (EUA) as COVID-19 therapy.”

As in the case of any scientific inquiry it takes time to establish undisputed findings, and caution is even more important when it deals with great ambiguity as in the case COVID-19. Scientists have agreed that there is much to be learnt about the disease; consequently there is also a lot to learn about its cure and prevention. Indeed, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states clearly about the treatment of COVID-19: “Currently there are no FDA-approved medicines specifically for COVID-19.”

Simultaneously, there has been significant reporting about hydroxychloroquine and its relative merit as a “cure” of COVID-19 and there is resulting confusion about the drug within the public sphere. The mediated narratives reflect the uncertainty that exists in the medical and scientific community. Much like many other things about the disease, there is no definitive story about the medicine in the media space.

In the meantime, the tweet space has been active around the hashtag #hydroxychloroquine. The tweet space has become an important aspect of our popular culture, especially with more people with greater time to be active in the digital space. In this case, a total of 14,232 tweets were produced between July 28 and August 11 from 9,223 unique tweeters. These tweets thus play into the way in which yet another narrative develops about the drug. There were tweets from posters that were followed by millions of people, for instance, the tweet “#Hydroxychloroquine is a safe drug” tweeted by the tweeter with the tweet handle of “@TomFitton” had 1,113,101 followers. Tweets have become an important component of the story that emerges from tweets around a specific topic.

This essay reports a narrative analysis of the tweets, using the narb analytic process that extracts a set of stories from the tweets.

As shown in the narrative map, the key themes of the story according to the tweets are Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), COVID-19, Trump and cure. Each of the circles in the map, also called nodes, represent the key elements of the story. The thickness of the lines represent the connection between the different elements of the stories. As evident in the map, the story connects HCQ with the virus and the tweets draw a relationship between the disease and the medicine. The triangle with the nodes, HCQ, COVID-19 and Trump, also demonstrate that the story emphasizes the connection between Trump and HCQ and the connection that Trump draws between HCQ and COVID-19.

The tweets also result in the emergence of a story element that characterizes the drug as a “cure” as evident in the line connecting the HCQ node to the cure node. The tweets offer a narrative where HCQ is considered to be a cure for COVID-19 and there is also a connection between HCQ and doctors suggesting that the story of HCQ includes doctors and their suggestions about the drug. As the map shows, the weak connection between the “doctor” node and the “cure” node suggests that doctors are infrequently connected to HCQ and cure. It is also evident, however, that the tweets connect Trump with the notion that HCQ is a cure for the disease.

The narrative map is open for further interpretation but it is important to note a few key aspects of the narrative that has developed around the hashtag. The people who follow the hashtag could get the impression that HCQ is a possible cure for the disease and this position is supported by President Trump, even if that is not necessarily stated by the doctors.

Please visit Narbs and Themediawatch to learn more about narb-based analysis.

My research and teaching interests include media and technology and its impact on everyday life available at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store