Tracing conspiracy theories
In spring, Constanze Leeb, a young student of cognitive science and physics at the University of Vienna, did a research project at the Hub under the supervision of our scientists Max Pellert and David Garcia.
Constanze was interested in what topics played an important role for Austrians in the first months of the COVID-19 outbreak, which conspiracy theories emerged, how prevalent they were and who spread them.
“Anxiousness and insecurity are common in difficult times,” Constanze explains her project. “In the quickly changing (social) media landscape this leads to uninformed beliefs, the spread of fake news and sometimes even conspiracy theories. People’s behavior and social response can be influenced, altering the epidemic process and effectiveness of countermeasures which is why social media analysis becomes essential.”
To trace the sources of conspiracy theory, Constanze analyzed a data set containing all comments from the vivid forum of the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard.
Narratives that led to conspiracy theories during the lockdown emerged around the following terms:
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