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The performance of truth: politicians, fact-checking journalism, and the struggle to tackle COVID-19 misinformation

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Since the World Health Organization (WHO, February 2, 2020) reported that the spread of coronavirus disease has been accompanied by a “massive infodemic,” the COVID-19 outbreak has become a national and international battleground of a struggle against misinformation. Fact-checking outlets around the world have been actively counteracting false and misleading information surrounding the pandemic. In this article, we conceptualize fact checkers in terms of the “interpretative power” that journalism holds in processes of political performances (Alexander in Soc Theory 22(4): 527–573, 2004, in: The performance of politics. Obama’s victory and the struggle for democratic power. Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, 2010). Drawing on virus-related fact checks from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) database, we make two arguments. First, we argue that the new phenomenon of specialized “fact checking” might be considered as a further explicitly differentiated element of Alexander’s model of cultural performance, which fulfills a double duty: trying to contribute to further “de-fusion” (separating audiences from actors when the latter lack authenticity and credibility) on the one hand, and working to overcome it on the other. Second, we explain how new fact-checking practices have become a reflexive supplement to the news media of the civil sphere that might be able to help the civil sphere’s communicative institutions to defend truthfulness in a manner that contributes to democracy.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
American Journal of Cultural Sociology (2020) 8:405–427
https://doi.org/10.1057/s41290-020-00115-w
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
The performance oftruth: politicians, fact‑checking
journalism, andthestruggle totackle COVID‑19
misinformation
MaríaLuengo1· DavidGarcía‑Marín1
Published online: 28 September 2020
© Springer Nature Limited 2020
Abstract
Since the World Health Organization (WHO, February 2, 2020) reported that the
spread of coronavirus disease has been accompanied by a “massive infodemic,”
the COVID-19 outbreak has become a national and international battleground of a
struggle against misinformation. Fact-checking outlets around the world have been
actively counteracting false and misleading information surrounding the pandemic.
In this article, we conceptualize fact checkers in terms of the “interpretative power”
that journalism holds in processes of political performances (Alexander in Soc The-
ory 22(4): 527–573, 2004, in: The performance of politics. Obama’s victory and the
struggle for democratic power. Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, 2010).
Drawing on virus-related fact checks from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking
Network (IFCN) database, we make two arguments. First, we argue that the new
phenomenon of specialized “fact checking” might be considered as a further explic-
itly differentiated element of Alexander’s model of cultural performance, which ful-
fills a double duty: trying to contribute to further “de-fusion” (separating audiences
from actors when the latter lack authenticity and credibility) on the one hand, and
working to overcome it on the other. Second, we explain how new fact-checking
practices have become a reflexive supplement to the news media of the civil sphere
that might be able to help the civil sphere’s communicative institutions to defend
truthfulness in a manner that contributes to democracy.
Keywords Covid-19· Misinformation· Journalism· Fact checkers· Performance·
Civil sphere
* María Luengo
maria.luengo@uc3m.es
David García-Marín
dgmarin@hum.uc3m.es
1 Department ofCommunication, Carlos III University, 133, Getafe, 28903Madrid, Spain
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... En 2010 Argentina inauguró un proyecto de verificación informativa que ha tomado fuerza y evolucionó en la última década, hasta consolidarse como un medio referencial para el fact-checking del continente, denominado Chequeado. Este proyecto inició su organización en 2009 "cuando solo existían en el mundo unas pocas organizaciones dedicadas a contrastar dichos del discurso público con hechos y datos"(Riera, 2014, p. 11), y si bien las iniciativas se han desplegado hacia otros países, como Ecuador, aún se esfuerzan por consolidarse como medios referenciales al momento de contrastar fake news y otras desinformaciones.Las experiencias del siglo XXI se enfocan en la verificación informativa como "una práctica periodística que valora la exactitud de los mensajes políticos de difusión pública" (Dafonte et al., 2021, p. 2); por ello, el discurso público se ha convertido en el objetivo de los procesos de verificación; y, de manera particular el discurso que resulta del campo político, en donde es común el uso de la mentira para atacar al adversario y obtener ventajas en una contienda electoral(Luengo & García-Marín, 2020;Rodríguez-Hidalgo et al., 2021).En ese contexto, la expansión del fact-checking, responde a las necesidades de verificar discursos, evidenciar la existencia de engaños o mentiras en los mensajes que circulan por medios sociales y mejorar la calidad del debate público tanto en el contexto presencial como en el digital(Golob, 2021;Rodríguez Pérez, 2019). Esta práctica no es ajena para los sistemas comunicacionales de Ecuador. ...
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... 425). Moreover, in a context of widespread mistrust and doubt, such as that experienced at the beginning of the pandemic and which has continued, information verification and evaluation by fact-checkers are ultimately able to delay rumours and viral conspiracies and mitigate their effects, and may even become important 'symbols of truth' once they are shared massively, as is easily the case with disinformation (Luengo & García-Marín, 2020). ...
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... 425). Moreover, in a context of widespread mistrust and doubt, such as that experienced at the beginning of the pandemic and which has continued, information verification and evaluation by fact-checkers are ultimately able to delay rumours and viral conspiracies and mitigate their effects, and may even become important 'symbols of truth' once they are shared massively, as is easily the case with disinformation (Luengo & García-Marín, 2020). ...
... Social media and news articles are excellent sources for this type of research, and some datasets are even open access [14][15][16]. The study of these materials has strongly contributed to the identification of fake news [17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28], thus providing a basis for management decisions by government and business. ...
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... Such as information about symptoms, drugs, impacts, costs, and other health facilities. In a pandemic situation, news or information that is less accurate is often found (Hoax), affecting government performance and public response (Imhoff & Lamberty, 2020;Luengo & García-Marín, 2020).This unreliable information has prompted the public to take independent or preventive actions that may conflict with the government's idea of public health. In addition, access to information about public services from the government has not been entirely successful in reaching the wider community. ...
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... This study contributes to the thriving fact-checking and health communication literature in two important ways. First, most studies investigated fact-checking from the journalism angle, considering it as a journalistic practice (Graves et al., 2016;Luengo & García-Marín, 2020). Although recent years have witnessed a growing interest in exploring fact-checking from the ordinary information-seekers' perspective, this limited line of research mainly examined how individuals' factchecking behaviors are affected by their personal characteristics, such as demographic factors (Brenes Peralta et al., 2022), media literacy (D. ...
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