In the more general climate of post-truth - a social trend reflecting a disregard for reliable ways of knowing what is true, mostly acted through massive use of misinformation and rhetoric calling for emotions - an alarming “infodemic” accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting healthy attitudes and behaviors and further lessening trust in science, institutions, and traditional media. Its two main representative items, fake and conspiracy news, have been widely analyzed in psycho-social research, even if scholars mostly acknowledged the cognitive and social dimensions of those items and devoted less attention to their discursive construction. In addition, these works did not directly compare and differentiate fake and conspiracy pathways. In order to address this gap and promote a wider understanding of these matters, a qualitative investigation of an Italian sample of 112 fake and conspiracy news articles, mostly spread during the first two COVID-19 “waves” (from March 2020 to January 2021) was realized. Our sample gathered news specifically coming from social media posts, representing easy and fast channels for viral content diffusion. We analyzed the selected texts by means of Diatextual Analysis and Discursive Action Model models, aimed to (a) offer “in depth” fine-grained analysis of the psycholinguistic and argumentative features of fake and conspiracy news, and (b) differentiate them in line with the classical Aristotle’s rhetoric stances of logos, ethos, and pathos, thus bridging traditional and current lines of thinking. Even though they may share common roots set in the post-truth climate, fake and conspiracy news engage in different rhetoric patterns since they present different enjeu and construct specific epistemic pathways. Implications for health- and digital-literacy are debated.


fake news, conspiracy news, COVID-19, critical discourse analysis, rhetoric

Author Bio(s)

Rosa Scardigno has a Ph.D. in Psychology and is Assistant Professor in Social Psychology working at the Department of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Communication – University of Bari “A. Moro”. Her main research interests deal with social psychology and media psychology through the lens of the discursive approach; specifically, her work focused on communicative processes and relational dynamics in old and new media, by means of both qualitative and quantitative methods. Please direct correspondence to rosa.scardigno@uniba.it.

Alessia Paparella has a degree in Psychology. Her dissertation was devoted to the qualitative study of fake and conspiracy news concerning COVID-19 pandemic. Please direct correspondence to a.paparella42@studenti.uniba.it.

Francesca D’Errico is Associate Professor in Social Psychology working at the Department of Educational Sciences, Psychology, Communication – University of Bari “A. Moro”. Her main research interests concern multimodal persuasive strategies in political and ethical communication by deepening the role played by socio-cognitive processes within classic and new media (inter alia, social media). She authored/co-authored more than 100 studies and recently a book on Social Influence, Power and Multimodal Communication (Routledge, 2022). Please direct correspondence to francesca.derrico@uniba.it.


This work was supported by the European project “STERHEOTYPES-Studying European Racial Hoaxes and Sterheotypes” recently founded by “Challenge for Europe” call for Project, Compagnia San Paolo (CUP: B99C20000640007) https://www.irit.fr/sterheotypes/people/

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