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Facebook Conspiracy Theorists Can’t Tell If They’re Being Trolled

Trolling, For Science!

www.businessinsider.com.au

There are some deep, dark corners of the world’s largest social media platform that most of us never encounter. Across hundreds upon hundreds of Facebook groups, profiles and fan pages, conspiracy theories ranging from the wild to the vaguely plausible to the outrageously offensive are discussed and promoted. It’s the kind of thing you know about, but prefer not to ponder, unless of course you’re a member of a certain research team from the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy.

Earlier this week, six researchers from the institute published the results of a study called ‘Collective Narratives in the Age of Misinformation’, which posited firstly that consumers of this kind of information rarely ever venture outside of their creepy comfort zones. Turns out it’s true, but more than that, it also turns out that it’s remarkably easy to mislead said consumers, since they’ll often very quickly jump on any new information without ever questioning its validity.

In an cross-section study of 1.2 million users, the team examined a series of 4,709 ‘troll posts’ that sarcastically parodied anti-science viewpoints. “These posts are clearly unsubstantiated claims, like the undisclosed news that infinite energy has been finally discovered,” The researchers claimed. “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),”

As it turned out, 78% of the users who hit the like button primarily used Facebook to interface with conspiracy theory pages. 81% of commenters belonged in the same camp. They also found that “where unsubstantiated rumors are pervasive, false rumors might easy proliferate”, meaning that the nonsense they posted to bait theorists had the potential to catch on and spread further, Chinese whispers-style.

On the flip side, the researchers found that even when the claims were as unsubstantiated and ludicrous as the ones that they were throwing out, naysayers would go to great lengths to find evidence to debunk them, when all they really need to say is ‘this makes no sense’ (or recognize that it's all a parody and get on with their lives).

As amusing as it is to know that your garden variety tinfoil hat-wearing, moon landing-denying nut-bar will believe literally anything you lay down as long as it concords with their views, ‘digital misinformation’ is an issue well worth addressing. The internet is, after all, the world’s forum and social media is its largest soapbox. The measles outbreak in the US has been linked to the on-going wave of anti-vaccination campaigners, for example.


In any case, the fact that people who engage with this kind of information almost never venture outside of their comfort zones (be they Illuminati, aliens, chemtrails, lizard people or the apocalypse, as predictedby Siri) just goes to show how small a role logic plays in these things.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Facebook Conspiracy Theorists Can’t Tell If They’re Being Trolled Reviewed by Callum Davies on Monday, March 02, 2015 Rating: 5
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