The social network Twitter is the most resistant to conspiracy theories, while Facebook and Youtube they have “more favorable characteristics to spread these theories”, according to a study led by the researcher at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) Ana Sofía Cardenal.
The work, which has analyzed the role of social networks and messaging applications to spread conspiratorial beliefs, confirms that the uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic and the lack of official information led to an increase in conspiracies on the networks, which have become one of the main channels for the dissemination of information and content that millions of users consult every day.
The study, published in the journal ‘New Media & Society’, highlights that social networks “do not always reflect reality and favor the spread of false news, fake news, hoaxes or conspiracies “.
Twenty universities from around the world have participated in the work and have analyzed the role of social networks in spreading conspiracy theories and the relationship between using these platforms and believing this type of fallacious argumentation.
“The characteristics and particularities of the operation of Twitter, one more social network oriented to news consumption, increase social pressure on what is published, which could reduce unverified or alternative information with respect to other social networks, such as Facebook or YouTube, with characteristics more favorable to the dissemination of these theories “, Cardenal has summarized, Professor of Law and Political Science at the UOC.
The work has analyzed the data obtained through surveys in 17 European countries before and after the pandemic on different social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and various messaging applications such as WhatsApp.
The authors have also verified how the different architecture and features of these platforms influence in the dissemination of these theories by defining the potential uses, the behavior of the users, the type of interactions and the information transmission processes. “This structure means that on a platform like Twitter, for example, conspiratorial content can be quickly discredited or become ‘drowned’ with better quality information or with the large volume of those who are willing to jump quickly and correct misperceptions”, the authors point out.
Likewise, according to the study, Twitter users combine a education above average with a greater tendency to search for news and participate in political debates than those of any other platform.
However, “in other social networks such as Facebook or in applications such as WhatsApp, where the type of link of the users is closer, such as family or friends, people do not check as much information or questionable content,” the study points out. has found “a relationship between using Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp and having conspiracy beliefs about covid-19“.” These types of social networks and messaging platforms tend to be more private and protected spaces, which could increase the circulation of alternative information“, according to Cardenal.
Consequences of the pandemic
According to the authors, although the spread of false theories on the internet has been a constant since its inception, the covid-19 pandemic has increased the presence and intensity of conspiracies on social networks.
Even shortly after declaring the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) described the situation as’infodemic‘, due to the amount of false information that began to circulate about the coronavirus. “In the first survey, before the covid-19 outbreak, we asked about the use of platforms and messaging services. And in the second, in May 2020, already in the midst of the pandemic, we collected the most common conspiracy theories about the origin and treatment of covid-19, and we asked about their beliefs about those theories, “explained Cardenal.
According to the researcher, the uncertainty and the greater time spent at home favored the dissemination of this type of unverified information, the threat anxiety The need for valid explanations about what was happening increased, which increased the demand for information, and at the beginning of the pandemic there was a lack of official verified information. “The Perfect storm and this imbalance between demand and supply became an opportunity for all kinds of conjectures and false explanations about the virus to circulate, “according to Cardenal.