Info-tech

Those skeptical of social media are better at identifying information on such sites: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on March 07, 2021

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According to new research carried out by researchers at the Washington State University, people who are skeptical towards social media are better at identifying misinformation disseminated on such sites.

The researchers noted that people with a strong trust in information found on social media sites were more likely to believe conspiracies. These conspiracy theories falsely explain significant events as part of a secret evil plot, even if they could identify other types of misinformation.

The study, published in the journal Public Understanding of Science, showed this held true for beliefs in older conspiracy theories as well as newer ones around Covid-19.

"There was some good and bad news in this study," said Porismita Borah, an associate professor in WSU's Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and a corresponding author on the study.

She added, "The good news is that you are less susceptible to conspiracy theories if you have some media literacy skills, one of which is being able to identify misinformation. But if you blindly trust the information you find on social media, those skills might not be able to help."

Borah believes that people may need a deeper education around social media to avoid falling for conspiracy theories.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 760 people recruited via Amazon's Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing website. The majority, 63.1 per cent used Facebook and 47.3 per cent used Twitter daily.

They answered a range of questions related to the level of their social media news use and trust as well as their ability to identify misinformation.

The participants were also asked to rate the truth of several Covid-19 conspiracy theories. These include the belief that the virus was a weapon of biological warfare developed by foreign countries.

They also were presented with older conspiracies to rate, such as that the moon landing was a hoax, and that Princess Diana was killed by a British intelligence agency.

The researchers found that a greater ability to identify misinformation lowered beliefs in all conspiracy theories--except for those who had high levels of trust in social media information.

"The pattern around trust is one of the most important findings from our study. We need to go deeper into what this trust means," said Borah.

Borah and the team suggested that political ideology may play a role in this trust. According to the researchers, people want to believe the words of political figures they admire, whether what they say is actually true or not.

Borah said more research is needed to understand why conspiracy theories appeal to people and how best to combat them as there can be serious consequences.

Published on March 07, 2021

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