The COVID-19 pandemic brought into focus the increasing role of social media in spreading conspiracy theories. A number of recent studies on online social behaviour have pointed out the immense power of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms in giving a wide reach to unverified claims. A new study has shed the light on how different platforms deal with the spread of unsubstantiated news reports. It suggested that when most social media platforms amplified COVID-19 conspiracy theories during the pandemic, Twitter managed to curb them.
The study, published by Sage journals, asked people about the social media platforms they use such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, or Messenger. The researchers then put forth a set of questions related to some of the most popular conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 doing the rounds on social media.
According to SapienJournal, participants in the study were asked to what extent they believed the following statements:
- The vaccine against the coronavirus has already been developed, but big pharmaceutical companies were hiding it from us to increase profit.
- The coronavirus is a bioweapon deliberately created by China to harm people.
- The coronavirus is the accidental leak of a US military secret experiment.
Participants were asked to choose their answer from these options — very certain it’s false, somewhat certain it’s false, uncertain whether it’s true or false, somewhat certain it’s true, and very certain it’s true.
Researchers surveyed people from 17 countries, mostly from Europe. The results showed that people spending time on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Messenger were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, while those on Twitter were less likely to.
“On average, Twitter reduces CTB (conspiracy theory beliefs) by 3 percent on the conspiracy scale… The results furthermore show that YouTube increases CTB with between 2 percent and 3 percent, and WhatsApp between 1 percent and 2 percent,” the study authors said.
Platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger are built primarily to support communication between family and friends, while Twitter largely caters to interactions between strangers, as per the study.