According to a February, 2015 study, conspiracy theorists are so gullible, they completely lack the ability to know when they’re being purposefully duped.
Looking at the social media habits of people who subscribe to conspiracy theories regarding “chemtrails,” 9/11 trutherism, reptilians and the Illuminati, a team of Italian and American researchers found that these people rarely engage with social media pages that challenge their views, therefore encapsulating themselves in a self-affirming bubble of misinformation.
Social media, primarily Facebook, proved to be the flashpoint of this phenomenon since it perpetuates misinformation and allows it to be shared and amplified at a rate not seen before the rise of the Internet.
After examining the social media habits of 1.2 million Facebook users, the researchers found that almost 92 percent of those who engage with Italian conspiracy theory pages get their information primarily from these pages, with almost zero counterbalance from more mainstream, fact-based sources.
The study also found that posts from conspiracy pages get unusually high engagement rates on Facebook in the form of likes and shares.
The researchers then tested the strength of the conspiracy theorists’ biases by posting “troll information” (sarcastic comments parodying anti-science views) on Facebook.
The farcical posts the researchers used were blatantly obvious, “like the undisclosed news that infinite energy has been finally discovered,” or that a “new lamp made of actinides (e.g. plutonium and uranium) might solve problems of energy gathering with less impact on the environment,” or that “chemical analysis” has revealed that “chemtrails contain sildenafil citratum (the active ingredient of Viagra).”
A whopping 78 percent of those who “liked” the 4,709 troll posts were people who were regular followers of conspiracy Facebook pages and outlets, Additionally, 81 percent of those who commented on the troll posts had similar social media habits.
The researchers also made sure to point out that “cognitive resources” were wasted when people who reject conspiracy theories took time to engage in disputing the unscientific “troll” claims.”
In other words, don’t waste your time arguing with conspiracy nuts — which is sound advice I routinely ignore.
[Plos One] This post was first published in May of 2015 and has since been updated