Research analyses misinformation and media coverage during COVID-19

Media coverage of COVID during the first few months of the pandemic was relatively positive according to several international studies, notes a researcher from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), who has published a paper analysing misinformation processes in the public sphere and the informative ecosystem during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to this, in general, subscriptions to digital media outlets increased considerably.

At an informative level, the highlighted aspect during the first few months of the pandemic was the leading role of experts in “the need for authorised voices that can somehow contextualise what is happening, especially in a situation of uncertainty”, notes researcher Raúl Magallón, from the UC3M’s Department of Communication and Media Studies, author of “Desinformación y pandemia: la nueva realidad (Pirámide, 2020)” (Misinformation and the pandemic: the new reality), a book which analyses the “hangover from the tsunami of fake news” from different perspectives.

Magallón refers to four relatively distinct misinformation typologies in this context. Firstly, fake news about how the virus was spread; secondly, fake news related to the prevention of the virus; thirdly, fake news referring to legislative and governmental measures, at both a local and global level; and fourthly, he defines “a jumble related to the uncertain context”, including phishing messages to conspiracy theories.

In terms of prevention, it has been observed that messaging systems have played a greater role in misinformation going viral. In fact, the channels where the majority of COVID-19 related fake news has been distributed are social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter (36.1%), and instant messaging applications, such as WhatsApp (36.1%), according to a recent study published by the researcher together with colleagues from the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid in the Spanish Journal Revista Española de Comunicación en Salud.

The new “infonormality”

Normalising misinformation processes, fear as a driving force of information overdose, boredom and fatigue as a mechanism to generate self-protection from information or polarisation as a strategic tool to distort reality are the most obvious problems when it comes to this new “infonormality”, according to the author.

The fight against misinformation does not consist only of preventing it from going viral or making the truth more attractive but is also made up of the ability to quickly generate doubts within the population that encourage them to decide not to share unverified information, the researcher notes in his book. In this context, and during the first few weeks of the pandemic, stopping the spread of misinformation was more important than providing - partial and incomplete - information about the evolution of the crisis, he adds.

More information:

Magallón Rosa, Raúl (2020). Desinformación y pandemia: la nueva realidad. Madrid, Ed. Pirámide, 2020. ISBN: 978-84-368-4358-3.

Sánchez-Duarte, J.M; Magallón Rosa, R. (2020). Infodemia y COVID-19. Evolución y viralización de informaciones falsas en España. Revista Española de Comunicación en Salud. Suplemento 1, S31-S41


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