Alternative counter-news use and fake news recall during the covid-19 crisis
Frischlich, Lena; Kuhfeldt, Lara; Schatto-Eckrodt, Tim; Clever, Lena
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by a massive flood of “fake news”, conspiracy theories, and distorted information more generally. Alternative news media have been accused of contributing to this pollution the information sphere. In this article, we argue that audiences with a counter-hegemonic, ideologically biased worldview are particularly likely to use alternative counter-news, because these outlets validate their worldview - and worldview validation being a relevant psychological need in times of crises. We suggest that by turning to alternative counter-news, audiences increase their exposure to fake news and end up being less well informed about important events. Results of a random-quota survey in Germany (N ¼ 967) confirmed that those with higher levels of conspiracy mentality and lower media trust were more likely to use alternative counter-news. Alternative counter-news users recalled more fake news than non-users and alternative counter-news use partially mediated the relationship between counter-hegemonic attitudes and fake news recall. Thus, although not all content in alternative counternews is fake news, these outlets do attract a specific counterhegemonic audience and they do contribute to the “pollution” of the information ecosystem.
alternative news media; alternative counter-news; authoritarianism; conspiracy mentality; coronavirus; COVID-19; differential susceptibility to media effects; fake news; trust