The performance of truth: politicians, fact-checking journalism, and the struggle to tackle COVID-19 misinformation Articles uri icon

publication date

  • December 2020

start page

  • 405

end page

  • 427


  • 3


  • 8

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2049-7113


  • Since the World Health Organization (WHO, February 2, 2020) reported that the
    spread of coronavirus disease has been accompanied by a "massive infodemic," the COVID-19 outbreak has become a national and international battleground of a struggle against misinformation. Fact-checking outlets around the world have been actively counteracting false and misleading information surrounding the pandemic. In this article, we conceptualize fact checkers in terms of the #34;interpretative power" that journalism holds in processes of political performances (Alexander in Soc Theory 22(4): 527–573, 2004, in: The performance of politics. Obama's victory and the struggle for democratic power. Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, 2010). Drawing on virus-related fact checks from Poynter's International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) database, we make two arguments. First, we argue that the new phenomenon of specialized "fact checking" might be considered as a further explicitly diferentiated element of Alexander's model of cultural performance, which fulflls a double duty: trying to contribute to further "de-fusion" (separating audiences from actors when the latter lack authenticity and credibility) on the one hand, and working to overcome it on the other. Second, we explain how new fact-checking practices have become a refexive supplement to the news media of the civil sphere that might be able to help the civil sphere's communicative institutions to defend truthfulness in a manner that contributes to democracy.


  • civil sphere; covid-19; fact checkers; journalism; misinformation; performance