DIGITAL ILLITERACY AS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS: THE SPREAD OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
de Ste Croix, Ann
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This thesis investigates the linkages between the conspiracy theories that proliferated online during the COVID-19 pandemic and digital illiteracy. To explore this link, this thesis is guided by the following question: How did conspiracy theories impact the response to COVID-19 in the United States? This study also asks, how do conspiracy theories spread? With the United States as a case study, it becomes clear that COVID-19 conspiracy theories hindered effective management of the pandemic. Within the framework of Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding model of communication, analysis of the most common COVID-19 conspiracy theories demonstrates that digital illiteracy significantly contributed to the spread and popularization of these theories. In our current online information landscape, where the role of producer and consumer have merged, messages are constantly being reconstructed, recycled, and repurposed. This makes deciphering misinformation from accurate information difficult for the average online user. Consequently, this thesis argues that strategies to combat online conspiracy theories must consider this reality and promote digital literacy education.