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Comunicar Journal 69: Citizen participation in the digital sphere (Vol. 29 - 2021)

Facing disinformation: Five methods to counter conspiracy theories amid the Covid-19 pandemic


Tianru Guan

Tianyang Liu

Randong Yuan


Among the burgeoning discussions on the argumentative styles of conspiracy theories and the related cognitive processes of their audiences, research thus far is limited in regard to developing methods and strategies that could effectively debunk conspiracy theories and reduce the harmful influences of conspiracist media exposure. The present study critically evaluates the effectiveness of five approaches to reducing conspiratorial belief, through experiments (N=607) conducted on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Our results demonstrate that the content-based methods of counter conspiracy theory can partly mitigate conspiratorial belief. Specifically, the science- and fact-focused corrections were able to effectively mitigate conspiracy beliefs, whereas media literacy and inoculation strategies did not produce significant change. More crucially, our findings illustrate that both audience-focused methods, which involve decoding the myth of conspiracy theory and re-imagining intergroup relationships, were effective in reducing the cognitive acceptance of conspiracy theory. Building on these insights, this study contributes to a systematic examination of different epistemic means to influence (or not) conspiracy beliefs -an urgent task in the face of the infodemic threat apparent both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.


Conspiracy theories, correction methods, COVID-19, audience, China-United States relation, media influence

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