TRAC:COVID Case study 2: misinformation, authority, and trust

McGlashan, Mark and Gee, Matt and Kehoe, Andrew and Lawson, Robert and Tkacukova, Tatiana (2021) TRAC:COVID Case study 2: misinformation, authority, and trust. Working Paper. Birmingham City University, Birmingham.

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Abstract

This case study reports on a study of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on Twitter and focuses on the scale and variety of iterations of vaccination hesitancy, misinformation and conspiracy theories in ~84 million tweets sampled between 1st January 2020 and 30th April 2021. Findings suggest that COVID-19-specific anti-vaccination (i.e. anti-vax) discourse is underpinned by political (dis)trust, fears of corruption, concerns over safety, and exists within a wider conspiracy theory network.

1. Despite the presence of vaccine misinformation, the majority of tweets about vaccines in relation to COVID-19 either do not contain – or are critical of – vaccine misinformation.

2. COVID-19 vaccine misinformation exists within a wider web of misinformation and conspiracy theories in which attempts are made to undermine confidence and trust in vaccines, health professionals, and policy-makers.

3. Anti-vax tweets often reference multiple anti-vax ideas as well as conspiracy theories not specifically linked to vaccines.

4. Thus, vaccine misinformation can be communicated in numerous ways and alongside other forms of misinformation, making both the identification of an archetypal anti-vax stance and the disaggregation of concerns that inform anti-vax stances difficult, if not impossible.

5. Moreover, given relationships within and between anti-vax ideas and broader conspiracy theories, anti-vax content could be regarded as a vector for the spread of numerous forms of misinformation.

6. These relationships – investigated in this case study through hashtag co-occurrences – provide valuable insights into the ‘discursive landscape’ of vaccine misinformation and the forms of misinformation and conspiracy theories to which COVID-19 misinformation is related.

7. However, due to the various forms and configurations through which misinformation may be realised and communicated, there is no silver bullet to prevent or detect vaccine misinformation.

8. Some misinformation contains language directly related to known conspiracy theories (e.g. nwo), but other forms are exceptionally novel, subtle, evolving, and, indeed, designed to circumvent automated moderation systems put in place by social media sites.

9. The ongoing role of expert human analysts in interpreting these linguistic behaviours is therefore crucial.

10. More broadly, the outcomes of this case study suggest a need to investigate the social and political conditions that result in social alienation and distrust, which informs anti-vaccination and conspiratorial beliefs. More comprehensive understanding of distrust facilitates understanding of how and why misinformation has been so pervasive and enduring throughout the pandemic.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Date: 3 August 2021
Subjects: Q100 Linguistics
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham Institute of Media and English > School of English
Depositing User: Gee
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2021 09:01
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2021 09:01
URI: http://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/id/eprint/12011

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