This study explores the spread of disinformation relating to the Covid-19 pandemic
on the internet, dubbed by some as the pandemic’s accompanying “infodemic”, and
the societal reactions to this development across different countries and platforms.
The study’s focus is on the role of states and platforms in combatting online
Through synthesizing answers to questions submitted by more than 40
researchers from 20 countries within the GDHR Network, this exploratory study
provides a first overview of how states and platforms have dealt with Corona-related
disinformation. This can also provide incentives for further rigorous studies of
disinformation governance standards and their impact across different socio-cultural
Regarding the platforms’ willingness and efficacy in removing (presumed)
disinformation, a majority of submissions identifies a shift towards more
intervention in pandemic times. Most submitters assess that this shift is widely
welcomed in their respective countries and more often considered as taking place too
slowly (rather than being perceived as entailing dangers for unjustified restrictions
of freedom of expression). The picture is less clear when it comes to enforcing
non-speech related infection prevention measures.
While the dominant platforms have been able to defend, or even solidify, their
position during the pandemic, communicative practices on those platforms are
changing. For officials, this includes an increasing reliance on platforms, especially
social networks, for communicating infection prevention rules and recommendations.For civil society, the pandemic has brought an increasing readiness – and perceived
need – to intervene against disinformation, especially through fact-checking
National and local contexts show great variance at whether platform-driven
disinformation is conceived as a societal problem. In countries where official sources
are distrusted and/or seen as disseminating disinformation criticism against private
information governance by platforms remains muted. In countries where official
sources are trusted disinformation present on platforms is seen more negatively.
While Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram play important roles in the pandemic
communication environment, some replies point towards an increasing importance
of messaging apps for the circulation of Covid-19-related disinformation. These
apps, like Telegram or WhatsApp, tend to fall under the radar of researchers, because
visibility of content is limited and scraping is difficult, and because they are not
covered by Network Enforcement Act-type laws that usually exclude one-to-one
communication platforms (even if they offer one-to-many channels).
Vis-à-vis widespread calls for a (re)territorialization of their content governance
standards and processes amid the pandemic, platform companies have maintained,
by and large, global standards. Standardized, featured sections for national (health)
authorities to distribute official information via platforms are exceptions thereto.