Disinformation as a superorganism: Results of research into the disinformation universe on Facebook presented

Izvor fotografije: HINA/ Tomislav Pavlek

Disinformation on Facebook make use of populist narratives and conspiracy theories, often resorting to techniques of intimidation, labeling, and banalization, and one of the main predictors of conspiratorial beliefs is the absence of political identification. This was concluded at today's presentation of the results on 'Exploding COVID-19 disinformation narratives in Croatia' '. The research was carried out within the framework of the multidisciplinary project "Pro-fact: Research, education, fact-check and debunk COVID-19 related disinformation narratives in Croatia", led by Gong.

The main topics of Facebook published disinformation, as well as other posts on sites, included in the Pro-fact research sample, that published or shared such disinformation, are various theses about a conspiracy against humanity and the people, theses about the danger of vaccines, protests and calls on the rebellion against pandemic measures and criticism of pandemic policies in general, as shown by the preliminary results of the content analysis conducted by Marijana Grbeša and Milica Vučković from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb.

"The analysis of Facebook disinformation revealed some communication patterns that help us better understand the nature of the disinformation universe, and the anatomy of disinformation content. It is interesting to note, for example, how conspiracy theories are combined with populist discourse, or how techniques of intimidation and labeling are used in that space, such as "Nazi-fascists, covidiots, ninja-virus, world poisoners, homo stupids", and others. We noticed that there is great influence in the Croatian of Serbian sites and publications, which emphasizes the importance of the role of a regional network of fact-checkers", explained one of the authors of the research, professor Marijana Grbeša.

The most common propaganda techniques used in the posts were fear, labeling (for example, "covids", "masquerades", "totalitarian training"), banalizing the danger of COVID-19, and creating the impression of people rising (for example, "the people are waking up - it's time for the truth"). "The more the morons, the stronger the corona", is the description of the disinformation pandemic language on Facebook. A large number of posts also contain a call to action, for example to share some content or to publicly resist the measures.

The analysis of social networks, conducted by Professor Mato Brautović from the University of Dubrovnik, showed two clearly separated groups of disinformation actors on Facebook: influential actors who create content, and super-spreaders who share the content of influential disinformation actors.

"The research we conducted showed that the ecosystem of disinformation about COVID-19 is of supranational nature, and that it has the characteristics of a superorganism that help it maintain a stable structure, and provide resistance to measures to suppress the spread of disinformation undertaken by platforms and fact-checking organizations," Professor Brautović explained.

Brautović and Grbeša agree that it is inevitable to mention the role of the media when it comes to spreading and strengthening the influence and reach of disinformation.

"On the one hand, the media are the target of disinformation attacks because they "spread totalitarian propaganda", and on the other hand, they are part of the problem because they use sensationalist equipment to help spread disinformation, which was also confirmed by this research," Professor Grbeša pointed out.

"These research activities also served to design survey research, focus groups and finally experiments, in which our goal is to determine what strategies of trust and skepticism citizens use when dealing with disinformation," said Professor Nebojša Blanuša from FPZG, coordinator of the research set of activities on the Pro-fact project.

"The project comprehensively approaches the social, political and health problem of the spread of COVID-19 disinformation campaigns through research, raising awareness and capacity building, and it is carried out jointly by Gong, the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, the University of Dubrovnik, the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, Faktograf with the Croatian Journalists society (HND) and the Union of Croatian Journalists (SNH)", said Svjetlana Knežević from Gong.

Video of the presentation of the research results:

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