Perceptions of Fake News, Misinformation, and Disinformation Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Exploration

Abstract

Fake news and misinformation spread quickly and virulently during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially outpacing the spread of the virus itself across the globe. This study aimed to develop a greater understanding of how individuals make sense of and interact with information they suspect to be fake by exploring perceptions of information sharing on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 24 participants (Nfemale = 14, Nmale = 10) took part in semistructured telephone interviews from March to June 2020. Thematic analysis was guided by principles of social constructionism. A total of 3 themes were developed from the data. First, participant interactions with information on social media were directed by the intention “Staying Social.” Second, the role of social media and the uncertainty of the pandemic was framed as “A Perfect Storm for Fake News.” Third, participants framed interactions in terms of “Fact-Checking” with differing rigor in this process. The data demonstrated the complexities involved when it came to participants’ experiences related to fake news and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The results also highlight some of the key challenges faced when it comes to preventing the spread of fake news and misinformation, particularly from the online to the offline environment. The results are discussed in the context of strategies and frameworks that can aid in educating individuals about the dangers of misinformation.

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