The researchers foundthat adherents to conspiracy theories are highly receptive to claims that support their views and rarely engage with social media pages that question their beliefs.
The ongoing measles outbreak linked to unvaccinated children has exposed one danger posed by hostility toward science, which is promoted in large part through social media.
The World Economic Forum last year identified “digital misinformation” alongside terrorism, cyber attacks, and global governmental failure asthreats to modern society.
Social media allows this misinformation to be transmitted and amplified as users gather around shared beliefs, interests, and worldviews – whether or not factual evidence supports those belief systems.
The researchers examined social media patterns for 1.2 million Facebook users and found that nearly 92 percent of those who engage with Italian conspiracy theory pages interact almost exclusively with conspiracy theory pages.
The study also found that conspiracy theory posts are much more likely to be shared and liked by Facebook users.
The researchers then tested the strength of these users’ biases by posting “troll information” – or sarcastic comments parodying anti-science views – on Facebook.
“These posts are clearly unsubstantiated claims, like the undisclosed news that infinite energy has been finally discovered, or that a new lamp made of actinides (e.g. plutonium and uranium) might solve problems of energy gathering with less impact on the environment, or that the chemical analysis revealed that chemtrails contains sildenafil citratum (the active ingredient of Viagra),” the researchers said.
They found that 78 percent of those who “liked” these 4,709 troll posts interacted primarily with conspiracy theory pages, as were 81 percent of those who commented on them.
The researchers also noted that anti-conspiracy theorists often wasted “cognitive resources” pushing back against these unscientific “troll” claims, even when they were “satirical imitation of false claims.”
Woman wearing tinfoil hat looking at computer (Shutterstock)