Networking science.

The Swiss Young Academy networks young researchers from a wide range of scientific disciplines and creates an inspiring environment for inter- and transdisciplinary exchange and innovative ideas. Its members are the representatives of Swiss science and are regarded as the young voice of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences.

What can we learn from COVID-19 fake news about the spread of scientific misinformation in general?

Objectives of the project are the investigation of (1) fake news the Swiss population believes in, where they obtained it from, and how it can be typified; (2) what we can learn from including different stakeholders in the analysis and interpretation of survey data; and (3) what can we learn about the spread of scientific misinformation in general. For the analysis, the project will rely on traditional quantitative and qualitative survey analysis, as well as on “citizen science” in the form of co-creation workshops. 
© picture source: iStock


Widespread fake news on medical issues can be dangerous for individuals and populations. However, conspiracy theories and misinformation about the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 abound. This project therefore focuses on investigating the informedness of the Swiss population in the event of pandemics and addresses several topical and methodological issues.


  1. Research the informedness of the Swiss population, especially what fake news the Swiss population believes in, where they obtained it from, and how it can be typified;
  2. Go beyond the traditional survey methodology and investigate what we can learn from including different stakeholders in the analysis and interpretation of the survey data;
  3. Gain insights into the spread of scientific misinformation in general at the example of COVID-19 fake news in Switzerland.



In a first project step in 2021, the project group conducted a representative online survey on the informedness of the Swiss with regard to the coronavirus. The focus was on gathering data on dimensions of misinformation. Then, for the analysis, the project group relied on traditional quantitative and qualitative survey analysis, as well as on “citizen science” in form of co-creation workshops. Non-expert individuals were invited to contribute to the qualitative analysis and interpretation stage. During co-creation workshops, participants had the opportunity to engage with the survey data and were encouraged to discuss possible classifications for both the fake newsmisinformation and the people sharing misinformation. Not only the final suggestions but also the justifications and deliberations occurring during the workshop feed back into the project and enrich future analyses.


The spread of and belief in conspiracy theories and misinformation can have detrimental effects on individuals, communities, and societies, on public health, trust in science, support for authorities or for the democratic systems, and on social cohesion more generally. Against this backdrop, it is essential to 


  1. assess the key challenges we are currently facing with regards to misinformation and conspiracy theories online, 
  2. identify problematic developments we will encounter in the future, and 
  3. developed strategies to effectively counteract conspiracy theories and misinformation online. 


Given the complexity of these issues and the fact that a broad range of experts from different scientific disciplines, politics, tech platforms, journalism, and other fields are concerned with misinformation and conspiracy theories online, we decided to conduct a Delphi study in the project year 2022 - a technique that invites experts to assess, forecast, and evaluate certain developments. We are collaborating on this with a group of researchers at the University of Zurich. 


Accordingly, we invited experts who are experienced in the field of misinformation and/or conspiracy theories, digital communication, regulation of information environments, and/or digital media literacy. We tried to integrate a broad range of perspectives, inviting scholars from different disciplines, national backgrounds, and status groups as well as practitioners from politics, legacy media, tech companies, or NGOs.


Our Delphi study is split into three waves. To grasp the topic in all its facets, the first two waves will be conducted with international experts. In the last wave, we focus specifically on the German-speaking region and invite experts from the DACH region to develop concrete countermeasures to curb conspiracy theories and misinformation.

The two-day workshop aims to discuss and elaborate prior results and formulate recommendations for measures to combat conspiracy theories and misinformation. After the first workshop session, we planned a panel discussion on «Fake News und Verschwörungstheorien – Learnings für die Zukunft» in cooperation with Prix Média and an award ceremony of the Prix Média and Prix Média Newcomer 2022 at Karl der Grosse in Zurich.


The presentation of the project results took place:


  • at the 9th European Communication Conference in Aarhus from 19 to 22 October 2022 under the title: "Informedness, Information Behaviours and Information Deficits Related to COVID-19 and Prevention Measures in Switzerland".
  • at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) in Toronto (Canada), 25.-29. May 2023 under the title: "Conspiracy theories and misinformation in digital media: A Delphi study assessing current challenges, problematic developments, and potential countermeasures".
  • at the Annual Conference of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft (DGPuK) in Bremen (Germany), 18.-20. May 2023 under the title "Herausforderungen, Trends, Maßnahmen: Eine Delphi-Studie zu Verschwörungstheorien und Fehlinformation in digitalen Medien".



Expected societal and scientific added value

  • Networking platform:

The citizen science approach is a win-win situation, as it will not only enrich the scientific project, but also bring together different stakeholders. In particular, the co-creation workshops will create the opportunity for the Swiss Young Academy to engage with existing actors at the intersection of academic research and civil society.

  • Inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration:

The project promotes inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration. Firstly, the project team consists of members with a diverse disciplinary background and rich experience in trans- and interdisciplinary work. Secondly, the aforementioned survey and co-creation workshops will actively include non-scientific members of the public in the assessment and discussion of the project. 

  • Impact beyond academia: 

Basically, our project is about generating and disseminating knowledge about which fake news is spread in Switzerland. The goal is to use the knowledge in future crises and to generally counter the distribution of fake news in Switzerland better, faster, and more efficiently. The project will contribute to being better prepared for the next epidemic and crisis with effective and more target-group-specific communication and to fight fast-spreading fake news.