Social Media and Health Misinformation During the US COVID Crisis

11 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2020 Last revised: 19 Oct 2020

See all articles by Gillian Bolsover

Gillian Bolsover

University of Leeds - School of Politics and International Studies

Janet Tokitsu Tizon

University of Leeds - School of Politics and International Studies

Date Written: August 4, 2020

Abstract

Health misinformation has been found to be prevalent on social media, particularly in new public health crises in which there is limited scientific information. However, social media can also play a role in limiting and refuting health misinformation. Using as a case study US President Donald Trump's controversial comments about the promise and power of UV light- and disinfectant-based treatments, this data memo examines how these comments were discussed and responded to on Twitter. We find that these comments fell into established politically partisan narratives and dominated discussion of both politics and COVID in the days following. Contestation of the comments was much more prevalent than support. Supporters attacked media coverage in line with existing Trump narratives. Contesters responded with humour and shared mainstream media coverage condemning the comments. These practices would have strengthened the original misinformation through repetition and done little to construct a successful refutation for those who might have believed them. This research adds much-needed knowledge to our understanding of the information environment surrounding COVID and demonstrates that, despite calls for the depoliticization of health information in this public health crisis, this is largely being approached as a political issue along divisive, polarised, partisan lines.

Keywords: COVID, coronavirus, health misinformation, social media, Twitter, Trump, bleach, US

JEL Classification: I10, O38

Suggested Citation

Bolsover, Gillian and Tokitsu Tizon, Janet, Social Media and Health Misinformation During the US COVID Crisis (August 4, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3666955 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3666955

Gillian Bolsover (Contact Author)

University of Leeds - School of Politics and International Studies ( email )

United Kingdom

Janet Tokitsu Tizon

University of Leeds - School of Politics and International Studies ( email )

United Kingdom

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