Reopen Demands as Public Health Threat: A Sociotechnical Framework for Understanding the Stickiness of Misinformation

Francesca Tripodi

Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory


Content Analysis, Facebook

Discursive strategies help justify incompliance with public safety protocols

In the absence of a national, coordinated, response to COVID-19, state and local representatives had to create and enforce individualized plans to protect their constituents. Alongside the challenge of trying to curb the virus, public health officials also had to contend with the spread of false information. This problematic content often contradicted safeguards, like masks, while promoting unverified and potentially lethal treatments. One of the most active groups denying the threat of COVID is The Reopen the States Movement. By combining qualitative content analysis with ethnographic observations of public ReOpen groups on Facebook, this paper provides a better understanding of the central narratives circulating among ReOpen members and the information they relied on to support their arguments. Grounded in notions of individualism and self-inquiry, members sought to reinterpret datasets to downplay the threat of COVID and suggest public safety workarounds. When the platform tried to flag problematic content, lack of institutional trust had members doubting the validity of the fact-checkers, highlight the tight connection between misinformation and epistemology.