2nd November 2022: Cedric Deschrijver
Title: Interactional effects of notions of disinformation: Recognizing and debating ‘disinformation agents’ in anonymous user comments
Abstract: Despite increasing attention to the spread of online disinformation in contemporary geopolitics, there has been little sustained engagement with specific effects of disinformation on public opinion, nor on how the idea of misinformation may influence online communication. The current paper provides a case study investigating the situated interactional consequences of the notion of disinformation. It analyses anonymous online user comments of The Financial Times’s coverage on the 2019 Hong Kong protests, employing methods rooted in linguistic anthropology to assess commenters’ own views, and interpretations of, disinformation in the comment boards.
The study shows that, despite a general lack of textual context that constitutes evidence of ongoing disinformation campaigns, several commenters attribute certain linguistic features to a notion of ‘disinformation agent’. Simultaneously, disparate contextual cues retrievable in discourse are (re)interpreted as situationally indexical of a ‘disinformation agent’ persona. In this sense, commenters’ awareness of potential disinformation campaigns may serve to heighten suspicion towards any comment seeking to criticize the protest movement. Instead, any potentially relevant textual feature may become locally indexical of ‘disinformation agents’. Rather than being swayed by certain arguments, several commenters identify recurrent themes as potentially connected to disinformation campaigns, and reject them on this basis.
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