The COVID-19 pandemic brought attention to the growing role of social media in spreading conspiracy theories. Several recent studies on online social behavior have pointed to the immense power of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms in providing broad access to unverified claims. A new study has shed light on how different platforms deal with the spread of baseless news reports. This suggested that while most social media platforms spread COVID-19 conspiracy theories during the pandemic, Twitter managed to curb them.
The study, published by Sage Journals, asked people about social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube or Messenger. The researchers then put forward a set of questions related to some of the most popular conspiracy theories on social media related to COVID-19.
According to SapienJournal, study participants were asked to what extent they believed the following statements:
- The vaccine against coronavirus has already been developed, but big pharmaceutical companies were hiding it from us to increase profits.
- Coronavirus is a bioweapon created by China to intentionally harm people.
- The coronavirus is an accidental leak of a US military secret experiment.
Participants were asked to choose their answer from these options – certain that it is false, partly it is false, unsure whether it is true or false, partly true, and very certain that this is true.
The researchers surveyed people from 17 countries, mostly from Europe. The results showed that people who spent time on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Messenger were more likely to believe conspiracy theories, while those on Twitter were less likely.
The study’s authors said, “On average, Twitter reduces CTB (conspiracy theory beliefs) by 3 percent on the conspiracy scale… the results furthermore show that YouTube reduces CTB by 2 percent to 3 percent and WhatsApp by 1 percent.” and increases between 2 percent.” .
According to the study, platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Messenger are primarily built to support communication between family and friends, while Twitter largely caters to conversations between strangers.