Kathleen Stansberry addresses conspiracy theories linked to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis

The assistant professor of strategic communications offered analysis in a recent Rolling Stone article examining why conspiracy theories about Trump and COVID-19 have gained significant traction on social platforms.

A recent Rolling Stone article delving into conspiracy theories about President Donald Trump and COVID-19 includes analysis from Kathleen Stansberry, assistant professor of strategic communications.

Kathleen Stansberry

In the Oct. 2 article, titled “QAnon Followers Think Trump’s Covid-19 Tweet Had a Secret Message About Hillary Clinton,” reporter EJ Dickson examined baseless conspiracy theories that have circulated since the president announced that he and Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus. Stansberry, a faculty member in the media analytics program, was among the social media experts who weighed in on the theories and their popularity with far-right extremists.

The apparent cognitive dissonance on display from extremists and QAnon supporters following Trump’s diagnosis makes sense, Stansberry told Dickson.

“There’s something called the backfire effect,” she said. “It essentially says that when confronted with facts that contradict someone’s worldview, instead of causing them to question it, it causes them to double down whatever belief was challenged and makes them dig in harder. And I think we’re seeing that a lot right now.”

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Regardless of how COVID-19 impacts Trump’s health, Stansberry predicts conspiracy theories will continue to abound. This is particularly true if Trump falls deathly ill, which fits the QAnon narrative that “an insidious group trying to take down the presidency,” she said.