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Social media trust linked to increased vulnerability to COVID-19 conspiracy theories

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Individuals who rely heavily on social media for news and who trust social media as a source of information are particularly susceptible to conspiracy theories, according to a new study published in the journal Public Understanding of Science.

Following the outbreak of SARS-COV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, a number of conspiracy theories have emerged, such as the assumption that newly developed 5G cellular networks secretly caused the disease. The spread of such misinformation has put pressure on social media platforms like Facebook, and researchers were keen to learn more about the path from social media news consumption to conspiracy formation.

“My research focuses on the impact of new technologies, including social media, on politics and health. I have researched misinformation and disinformation in the context of various topics including COVID-19. The impact of social media messaging is at the core of this research program, so I investigated these variables, ”said study author Porismita Borah, associate professor at Washington State University

The researchers interviewed 760 adults recruited through Amazon’s mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform. The participants were roughly split between Democrats and Republicans. The majority of them, 63.1%, used Facebook every day and 47.3% used Twitter. They answered a number of questions related to the use and trust of their messages on social media, as well as the tendency to spot misinformation.

Participants said if they believed COVID-19 conspiracy theories and they said if they believed in other general conspiracy theories, such as the assumption that the moon landing was a hoax or that Princess Diana was deliberately killed by a British secret service .

Those who said they got most of their news and information through social media sites tended to support more general conspiracy beliefs and also more conspiracy beliefs related to COVID-19. This relationship was especially strong among those who trusted the news they found on social media.

In other words, those who frequently used social media for news and agreed to the statement “I trust messages I find on social media sites” were the most likely to agree with statements such as “The COVID-2019 is a weapon of biological warfare that is used by foreign countries. ”The researchers found that the tendency to spot misinformation had a protective effect, but only for participants with less trust in social media.

“People should be very careful about what information they trust and who they trust. Our results show that social media news usage is generally associated with higher levels of misperception. That association is bigger when people trust the information they get from social media, ”Borah told PsyPost.

“So when people blindly trust the information on social media, they are more prone to these misperceptions. We also find it helpful to be informed about the information and to be able to identify misinformation in order to mitigate this association. So pay attention to the information that you are consuming online. Check the information and the source and don’t blindly trust the information. “

The study controlled gender, age, and party affiliation. However, the researchers only received correlation data and can therefore not make any statements about causality.

“The results come from a cross-sectional survey,” said Borah. “More research needs to be done in this area to better understand these relationships and examine other factors that may help combat misinformation and disinformation in the future.”

The study “The Dangers of Blind Faith: Examining the Interplay of News Use on Social Media, Identifying Misinformation, and News Reliance on Conspiracy Beliefs” was written by Xizhu Xiao, Porismita Borah, and Yan Su.

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