COVID-19 Conspiracies: Trends in Italy, France, and Spain

Yesterday, we released a blog-post contextualising the emergence of COVID-19 conspiracies. We identified three major narratives drawn from our analysis of the disinformation ecosystems in Italy, France, and Spain:

  • The origins of the virus;
  • The cures and medical treatments for the virus;
  • The instrumental use of the virus to push secret agendas.

Most of these arguments are old news (e.g. deep state scares, anti-Semitism or anti-vaxxers), which are re-framed under the new COVID-19 guise. In this way, ageless assumptions are simply retrieved and adapted to suit current events.

Adding the D to ABC

Released last year, Camille François’ A Disinformation ABC framework is a key tool for identifying and assessing information operations. By looking at the Actors, Behaviours, and Content behind an operation, the framework affords a clear model for how to design counter-disinformation efforts. Yet in a piece for Brookings Institution, our very own Alexandre Alaphilippe believes we need to add a Dfor information Distribution. The ABC focus “doesn’t take into account the way structural factors inform disinformation campaigns,” writes Alexandre. In this view, “the way a digital platform is structured shapes and constrains how information is distributed and the kind of reach it will have”. Taking a more structural look at disinformation needs to be paired with greater transparency on information distribution. It is hoped that adding this D to the ABC framework will stimulate “deeper research and foster a better understanding of disinformation”.

Platforms vs. the Infodemic

Last week, The Markup released an investigation detailing how it had managed to advertise a post on Facebook targeting people interested in “pseudoscience”. The ad was approved by Facebook, and according to its Ad Portal, this audience contained 78 million users. In an effort to keep up its response to the infodemic, Facebook later removed this targeting option following the investigation “to prevent potential abuse in ads”. Around the same time, YouTube announced that it would ban “medically unsubstantiated content”.

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