Twin Pandemics: COVID and Conspiracy in Digital Spaces

Authors: Finn Odum*, Macalester College
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Communication, Cyberinfrastructure
Keywords: COVID-19, Misinformation, Digital space
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 7
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role of anti-authority digital social spaces in the dissemination of health information. These online spaces present legitimate dangers for the future of global health, as they perpetuate COVID-19 conspiracies and promote the rejection of health authority. This thesis asks how digital social spaces allow for the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. Through a discourse analysis of conspiracy narrative news coverage, I study the development of three COVID-19 conspiratorial narratives: the Wuhan Lab theory, the Plandemic theory, and the 5G-Coronavirus theory. I aim to understand how these discourses took advantage of the unique character of digital social spaces to contradict reputable health authorities. The results of my analysis indicate that COVID conspiracy narratives are built on anti-authority discourses, xenophobia, and fear-based misinformation. In addition, conspiratorial narratives benefit from recognition by political figures in both mainstream news media and social media networks. Preliminary results suggest that the infrastructure of social media outlets aid the development of conspiratorial social groups, who can undermine health authorities by perpetuating misinformation about public health issues. The conclusions drawn from this research provide potential avenues for future studies of non-compliant health behaviors.

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