The Instagram Infodemic: Cobranding of Conspiracy Theories, Coronavirus Disease 2019 and Authority-Questioning Beliefs
The novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic has brought about an overabundance of misinformation concerning the virus (SARS-CoV-2) and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) it causes spreading rapidly on social media. While some more obviously untrustworthy sources may be easier for social media filters to identify and remove, an early feature was the cobranding of COVID-19 misinformation with other types of misinformation. To examine this, the top 10 Instagram posts (in English) were collected every day for 10 days (April 21-30th, 2020) for each of the hashtags #hoax, #governmentlies, and #plandemic. The #hoax was selected first as it is commonly used in conspiracy theory posts, and #governmentlies because it was the most commonly cotagged with #hoax. For comparison, we selected #plandemic as the most popular cotagged hashtag that was clearly COVID-19-related. This resulted in 300 Instagram posts available for our analysis. We conducted a content analysis by coding the themes contained in the posts, both for the images and the text caption shared by the Instagram users (including hashtags). The broad theme of general mistrust was the most common, including the idea that the government and/or media has fabricated or hidden information pertaining to COVID-19. Conspiracy theories were the second-most frequent theme among posts. Overall, COVID-19 was frequently presented in association with authority-questioning beliefs. Developing an understanding of how the public shares misinformation on COVID-19 alongside conspiracy theories and authority-questioning statements can aid public health officials and policymakers in limiting the spread of potentially life-threatening health misinformation.