The rhetorical implications of social media misinformation

Platform algorithms during a global pandemic


  • Joseph Zompetti Illinois State University
  • Michael Severino Illinois State University
  • Hannah Delorto Illinois State University


rhetoric, social media, COVID-19, disinformation, misinformation, algorithms


We engage in a rhetorical, thematic reading of anti-coronavirus messages that perpetuate mis/disinformation online. We specifically discuss how social media algorithms manipulate data to spread disinformation in the area of anti-vaccination rhetoric in our current pandemic conjuncture. We also explore how, as a case study, COVID-19 anti-vaccine rhetoric spreads virally through social media platforms. Drawing from perspectives in rhetorical theory, spectacle, digital literacy, and social media data analysis, we embrace an interdisciplinary approach as a way to explore holistically negative vaccine-related messages from April 2021 through January 2022 by American politicians and media pundits. Using state-of-the-art data analytics from our social media center, we will examine topic-specific messages from Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We argue that addressing issues relating to disinformation and digital literacy are vital for the work that promotes democracy. Since we will address ways to avoid and reduce disinformation into our daily lives, we believe we will advance important pedagogical ideas for sustaining democratic impulses. Finally, we discuss the core skills and knowledge necessary to identify and combat disinformation messages. Our hope is that this contribution to the on-going conversation about disinformation, anti-vaccine rhetoric, and the unique dangers of discourse in social media can provide a perspective to the vaccine debate that has hitherto largely been neglected.

Author Biographies

Michael Severino, Illinois State University

Michael Severino is an undergraduate student at Illinois State University majoring in secondary education. He is also the 2022 student fellow for the ISU Center for Civic Engagement.

Hannah Delorto, Illinois State University

Hannah Delorto is an undergraduate student at Illinois State University majoring in communication and economics. She is also an undergraduate teaching assistant for a divisive discourse political communication course.


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