Martina Topic, Marija Geiger Zeman, Zdenko Zeman, Mirela Holy

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This paper analyses online user comments on two mainstream Croatian portals, Index.hr and 24sata.hr regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, global conspiracies, and fake news in the context of decreasing media trust. Three-tier coding was conducted on 12.910 comments (2.194 from the portal 24 sata and 10.716 from the portal index.hr) and a thematic analysis was carried out. The findings showed that the main themes capture global conspiracy theories, including fascism as one of the main themes, as well as a lack of belief in the reality of the pandemic and negative views of the mainstream media seen as intertwined with the Government and as promoting one-sided views. Since the findings were unexpected, particularly regarding the extensive criticism of the media, and due to a large amount of conspiracy-related content on two portals neither of which is normally associated with the far right, an abductive analysis was conducted. The results revealed that the majority of content in the user comments regarding fascism and slavery as features of the COVID-19 policy in Croatia was posted either by a far-right political party (on Index.hr) or two unidentified users (on 24sata.hr) (likely far-right activists), and in both cases, comments were copy-pasted, including grammar mistakes. This signals an attempt of the far right in Croatia to not just contribute to but also manipulate public opinion and debates as well as give a false impression to an inattentive reader of the views of the Croatian public regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.


audience, fake news, post-truth, Croatia, public opinion, media trust, far-right activism, manipulation, COVID-19 pandemic, coronavirus, news portals, conspiracy, online behaviour

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22190/FUPSPH2203113Т


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