Made in Brazil: Conspiracy Theory and the Flow of Information in One-To-One WhatsApp Conversations

This article aims to shed light on the multiple and complex ways that information flows in communication processes mediated by digital platforms. Based on actor-network theory, it unveils the dynamics that occurred in one-to-one conversations on WhatsApp, regarding the controversial death of the Brazilian Supreme Court Justice, Teori Zavascki, in 2017. Analyzing primary data from conversations in which the author was part, the paper discusses the signs of authority that allow for non-verified and fictional articles to circulate as if they were news pieces, enabling conspiracy theories to take shape. The paper defends that mutual responsibility in building the narrative with members of likeminded groups, and “translation” processes, in which the sender and information merge their characteristics to forge trust, are important factors to understand the circulation of content in private messaging applications. The role of digital platforms in the diffusion of conspiracy theories and in how “fake news” is framed is also addressed as part of this distributed communication process where co-responsibility can be observed, showing that the opposition between “real” and “fake” is too limited to make sense of how conspiracy theories spread digitally, given that such terms do not account for the technopolitics of the phenomenon.

Prelúdios, 2021 (forthcoming)

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