Tag Archives: Social media

Effectiveness of Debunking Online

In a recent News Blog we looked at how users of Social Media Sites, such as Facebook, tend not to view information that disagrees with their own ideas.[1] This has been backed up by another recent study by Zollo et al. in PLoS One.[2] Here the authors examined the Facebook activity of 54 million users over five years, and compared how users who usually look at proven, scientific information, and those who look at unsubstantiated, conspiracy-like posts (i.e. not reported in the mainstream media) interacted with specific debunking posts. They found that such users generally existed in ‘echo chambers’, interacting primarily with either scientific or conspiracy-like posts and pages. The authors then focussed on a set of 50,220 debunking posts, and found that around 67% of ‘likes’ and 50% of comments for these pages came from the users who consumed proven information, while only 7% of ‘likes’ and 4% of comments came from those users who viewed unsubstantiated information. Interestingly, the comments made by both groups were mainly negative. Further analysis showed another interesting finding – users of the conspiracy echo chamber who did not interact with debunking posts were 1.76 times more likely to stop interacting with unsubstantiated news in the future – i.e. interacting with debunking posts was associated with an increased interest in unsubstantiated, conspiracy-like content.

The authors suggest that these results support the ‘inoculation theory’ – exposure to repeated, mild challenges to their beliefs leads people to become more resistant to change, even if latter arguments are stronger and more persuasive. Maybe a different approach is needed.

— Peter Chilton, Research Fellow

References:

  1. Lilford RJ. It is Really True: Detailed Analysis Shows That Social Media Really Do Lead to Silo Thinking. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. June 23, 2017.
  2. Zollo F, Bessi A, Del Vicario M, et al. Debunking in a world of tribes. PLoS One. 2017; 12(7): e0181821.
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It is Really True: Detailed Analysis Shows that Social Media Really do Lead to Silo Thinking

It is popular to claim that social media sites (SMSs), such as Twitter and Facebook, democratise knowledge. This is true in one sense – it places information within the easy reach of the population at large. Individuals certainly benefit.[1] But what about society at large? Here the story is bleak. Far from bringing people into contact with ideas that might challenge their precepts, SMSs increase intellectual isolation. Walter Quattrociocchi, writing in Scientific American,[2] summarises the mountain of data that has been painstakingly collated by himself and others; they analysed data from two million Facebook users in one study.[3] People eschew views they find challenging and isolate their attention in online groups, which reinforces their pre-existing beliefs. It gets worse – the less educated a person, the more isolationist they tend to be. Such people hew to conspiracy theories, which grow like a snowball among online communities. Scientific analysis is shut out so that detailed analysis of data on topics such as climate change are less widely disseminated. Conspiracy theories proliferate, for example, saying that climate change is a hoax perpetuated to further academic careers and earnings of alternative energy suppliers. The very worst news is that campaigns aimed at debunking these myths actually reinforce belief in conspiracy theories; there is no antidote to the myths perpetuated down social media.

SMSs are here to stay, but as the author says, the Information Revolution is fostering an Age of Credulity not an Age of Enlightenment.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director

References:

  1. Lilford RJ. The Second Machine Age. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands. 5 May 2017.
  2. Quattrociocchi W. Why Social Media Became the Perfect Incubator for Hoaxes and Misinformation. Scientific American. April 2017.
  3. Del Vicario M, Bessi A, Zollo F, et al. The Spreading of Misinformation Online. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2016; 113(3): 554-9.