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‘Like a Virus’ – Disinformation in the Age of COVID-19

Posted In Media, News, Projects, Publications - By On Tuesday, May 19th, 2020 With 0 Comments

QUT DMRC social media researchers Dr Tim Graham and Prof. Axel Bruns participated in Essential Media’s Australia at Home online seminar series on 23 April, presenting early results from collaborative research in partnership with the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology to a Zoom audience of more than 200 participants.

Also involving Assoc. Prof. Dan Angus and Dr Tobias Keller, the team is currently investigating the origins and spread of major conspiracy theories associated with the COVID-19 crisis across various social media platforms. Such conspiracy theories include false stories about coronavirus as a bioweapon created either in a Wuhan lab or by researchers associated with the Gates Foundation, and about connections between coronavirus and the roll-out of 5G mobile telephony technology.

Early results from this research point to the presence of a small but sustained coordinated effort by a network of Twitter accounts that pushed the bioweapon conspiracy story; such accounts were often associated with fringe political perspectives especially in the United States. Further, the research indicates that these conspiracy theories typically spread beyond the fringes of public discussion only once they are picked up and amplified by tabloid media exploiting them as clickbait, or by celebrities from the fields of music, movies, and sports who share them with their substantial social media audiences.

The research, which will be presented in extended form in a report for the Centre for Responsible Technology and subsequent scholarly publications, points to important inflection points in the trajectory of conspiracy theories from the fringes to the mainstream, and highlights a need both for further platform intervention against coordinated inauthentic behaviour and for the development of greater digital literacies not least also amongst influential social media users.

About the Author

- Axel Bruns is a Professor in the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, where he leads the Digital Publics programme.

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