Is It Conspiracy or ‘Truth’? Examining the Legitimation of the 5G Conspiracy Theory during the Covid-19 Pandemic

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Abstract

During the Covid-19 pandemic, considerable scholarly attention has been paid to the proliferation of conspiracy theories and their potential impacts. How and why digital media has facilitated the production, consumption, and distribution of such discourses as ‘truth’ remains largely neglected in the literature though. This paper explores this process through a transdisciplinary methodology designed to investigate legitimation in digital spaces. Based on a theoretical bridge between Beetham’s theory of legitimation and KhosraviNik’s principle that visibility-equals-legitimacy, the Multimodal Critical Affect-Discourse Analysis of an audio-visual performance of the 5G conspiracy theory exposes how it has been simultaneously legitimized through authoritative performance and visibility. An interview given by the notorious conspiracy theorist David Icke, in which he associates the pandemic with 5G technology, was used as a case study because it was widely consumed and reproduced as ‘truth’, leading media companies to take unprecedented action against conspiracy theories. Besides contributing to existing debates on conspiracy theories, this paper offers new directions for the critical analysis of legitimation and power, acknowledging the fluid and diffuse nature of power in network societies and illuminating how meanings, beliefs, and affects have been manipulated by multiple actors to achieve consent and motivate collaborative authorship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 317-328
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Epistemology
Volume36
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Covid19
  • Truth
  • conspiracy theories
  • discourse analysis
  • legitimation

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