Infodemic: Combatting COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories

About the project

A direct response to the warning of the World Health Organisation at the start of the pandemic about the dangers of misinformation, this project studied how and why conspiracy theories spread in the online environment. Scraping conspiracy theory posts from the main social media platforms, digital methods were used to identify key themes and trends. Researchers analysed the historical roots of conspiracy theories and the effectiveness of actions taken by social media platforms in combatting the ‘infodemic’.

Findings showed that conspiracy theories can be connected to people’s deeply held sense of political identity. Online, they reinforce a sense of belonging.

Key policy recommendations include:

  • Removing content and deplatforming superspreaders is important, but it is vital to also consider the reasons behind demand for content.
  • Self-regulation by the industry will never be sufficient; state regulation is required but must work in partnership with civil society regulations.
  • Redesign of the infrastructure and incentives of social media companies is required.

Principal Investigator

Professor Peter Knight
(University of Manchester)

Project Website

Policy Brief

Guidance, Messaging and Behaviour Change

Keywords

communication conspiracy theory misinformation rumour social media