How Conspiracy Theories Go Viral
…a team of researchers at Northeastern University, led by Walter Quattrociocchi, decided to study how it is that erroneous information jumps the credibility fence and becomes widely believed to be true. Their theory ,… is that it has something to do with the kind of people who read “alternative” news, because they’re generally mistrustful of the mainstream media.
The team studied some 2 million Facebook users to see how they interacted with various pieces of content about the 2013 political election in Italy—stories from traditional news sites, alternative publications, and niche political sites. They then interjected 2,788 untrue or satirical “troll” posts to compare.
The researchers found that people engaged with the bunk posts even more and for even longer than the accurate reports, and they wound up triggering several viral stories, underlining “the effect of Facebook on bursting the diffusion of false beliefs when truthful and untruthful rumors coexist,” the report states.
Logically enough, the folks who were more prone to reading alternative websites (defined as “pages which disseminate controversial information, most often lacking supporting evidence and sometimes contradictory of the official news”) were also more likely to buy into a conspiracy theory. … those radical readers are A) less adept at parsing accurate information and B) already skeptical of mainstream journalism, and looking for an different take.