Fact-Checking the Crisis: COVID-19, Infodemics, and the Platformization of Truth

Kelley Cotter, Julia R. DeCook, Shaheen Kanthawala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, various officials flagged the critical threat of false information. In this study, we explore how three major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) responded to this “infodemic” during early stages of the pandemic via emergent fact-checking policies and practices, and consider what this means for ensuring a well-informed public. We accomplish this through a thematic analysis of documents published by the three platforms that address fact-checking, particularly those that focus on COVID-19. In addition to examining what the platforms said they did, we also examined what the platforms actually did in practice via a retrospective case study drawing on secondary data about the viral conspiracy video, Plandemic. We demonstrate that the platforms focused their energies primarily on the visibility of COVID-19 mis/disinformation on their sites via (often vaguely described) policies and practices rife with subjectivity. Moreover, the platforms communicated the expectation that users should ultimately be the ones to hash out what they believe is true. We argue that this approach does not necessarily serve the goal of ensuring a well-informed public, as has been the goal of fact-checking historically, and does little to address the underlying conditions and structures that permit the circulation and amplification of false information online.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSocial Media and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications


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