Mental models of the author in online news discourse: COVID-19 fakes

Kucherova O. O., PhD,
National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Kyiv
ORSID ID: 0000-0003-2350-2399


The article concerns mental models in Internet news discourse that are used by the author to produce fake news about COVID-19. Fake news is understood as an umbrella term, including misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. False news can be found as inaccurate, unsupported, half true, misleading or false. The problem of COVID-19 is global and the consequences of COVID-19-related infordemic may have consequences that go far beyond public health. Van Dijk’s Sociocognitive discourse analysis framework is used for the Internet news which were proven as fakes by factchecking sites, such as VoxCheck, Full Fact, Health Feedback and Discourse production is viewed as a complex cognitive process. The article aims to describe structures of discourse in terms of explicit psychological theories of mental representations, which are mental models. These mental models, which are subjective representation of events, control the main topics and local coherence of fake news discourse. The macrostructure or the main topics that are being discusses and on which the whole story is based are “lab leak theory”, the origin of the virus, nature of the virus, whether people in power have good or ill intent, vaccination, wearing masks, false cures, emergency responses, reinfections. Local coherence is analyzed in terms of meaning relations between propositions. Fake news about COVID-19 are predominantly based on contrast/comparison and cause-and-effect relations. The results show that mental models are based on the intention of the author, the type(s) of the author, the global topic and relations between propositions of the discourse. Knowledge of mental models can discourage the proliferation of fake news. This may as well help to slow the spread of the disease.

Keywords: discourse analysis, mental models, fake news; disinformation, media discourse, COVID-19.