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Tackling Online Disinformation. The Construction of 'Trustworthiness' and 'Best Practices' in the European Commission Discourse on COVID-19


Over the last few decades, misleading healthcare information and deceptions with false claims, conspiracy theories (CTs) and consumer fraud have endangered public health on a global scale. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a substantial flow of false information and unceasing attempts by conspirators to influence debates in the official discourses, breeding on the fertile ground of people’s most basic anxieties and the present-day social and economic uncertainty. This paper investigates the discourse of the European Commission on disinformation in order to achieve institutional legitimation through the linguistic and discursive construction of ‘trustworthiness’, ‘credibility’, and ‘transparency’. The analysis considers the documents produced by the European Commission over the last few years (2018-2021), to tackle the discourse that supports alternative views on official science. The results of the analysis reveal the EU discursive process of conceptualising ‘verifiably false or misleading information’ as ‘public harm’, while distancing it from the EU’s fight against disinformation’ that is discursively constructed as ‘the protection of the EU values’. In particular, the investigation will show how the lexical and phraseological interaction discursively removes the harmful potential of conspiracy theories activists, legitimises massive control measures as the most effective way to guarantee freedom of expression and pluralistic democratic debate, and empowers the EU’s image as the shield protecting the European citizens’ awareness and societal resilience (Flowerdew, Richardson 2018).