Covering Conspiracy: Approaches To Reporting The COVID/5G Conspiracy Theory

A new study by researchers at the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia uses GDELT to explore the Covid-19/5G conspiracy theory:

Conspiracy theories about the ‘real’ origins of the coronavirus have co-evolved with media coverage of the COVID-19 crisis itself; the World Health Organization now warns about a global “infodemic” paralleling the viral pandemic. Covering these conspiracy theories presents difficult editorial choices for news organizations. This article examines how diverse news outlets chose to report on one key COVID-19 conspiracy theory: the (entirely unfounded) claim that 5G telecommunications technology severely worsened or even caused the pandemic. We draw on online article data from the global news database GDELT to examine the coverage of COVID/5G conspiracy theories: we trace the changing nature of conspiracist claims; chart the expansion of coverage from fringe media to respected mainstream outlets; and pay particular attention to key stories that significantly increase the reach of reporting about this conspiracy theory. Arising from this analysis are new questions for journalists: what role does their coverage of such conspiracy theories play in amplifying them? Are there newsbeats that are particularly vulnerable to problematic information? Can they adjust their reporting to avoid aiding the circulation of conspiracist ideas?

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