Identifying frames of the COVID-19 infodemic: Thematic analysis of misinformation stories across media

Ehsan Mohammadi, Iman Tahamtan, Yazdan Mansourian, Holly Overton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Background: The word "infodemic"refers to the deluge of false information about an event, and it is a global challenge for today's society. The sheer volume of misinformation circulating during the COVID-19 pandemic has been harmful to people around the world. Therefore, it is important to study different aspects of misinformation related to the pandemic.

Objective: This paper aimed to identify the main subthemes related to COVID-19 misinformation on various platforms, from traditional outlets to social media. This paper aimed to place these subthemes into categories, track the changes, and explore patterns in prevalence, over time, across different platforms and contexts. 

Methods: From a theoretical perspective, this research was rooted in framing theory; it also employed thematic analysis to identify the main themes and subthemes related to COVID-19 misinformation. The data were collected from 8 fact-checking websites that formed a sample of 127 pieces of false COVID-19 news published from January 1, 2020 to March 30, 2020. 

Results: The findings revealed 4 main themes (attribution, impact, protection and solutions, and politics) and 19 unique subthemes within those themes related to COVID-19 misinformation. Governmental and political organizations (institutional level) and administrators and politicians (individual level) were the 2 most frequent subthemes, followed by origination and source, home remedies, fake statistics, treatments, drugs, and pseudoscience, among others. Results indicate that the prevalence of misinformation subthemes had altered over time between January 2020 and March 2020. For instance, false stories about the origin and source of the virus were frequent initially (January). Misinformation regarding home remedies became a prominent subtheme in the middle (February), while false information related to government organizations and politicians became popular later (March). Although conspiracy theory web pages and social media outlets were the primary sources of misinformation, surprisingly, results revealed trusted platforms such as official government outlets and news organizations were also avenues for creating COVID-19 misinformation. 

Conclusions: The identified themes in this study reflect some of the information attitudes and behaviors, such as denial, uncertainty, consequences, and solution-seeking, that provided rich information grounds to create different types of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some themes also indicate that the application of effective communication strategies and the creation of timely content were used to persuade human minds with false stories in different phases of the crisis. The findings of this study can be beneficial for communication officers, information professionals, and policy makers to combat misinformation in future global health crises or related events.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33827
Number of pages16
JournalJMIR Infodemiology
Issue number1
Early online date25 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2022


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