Science vs conspiracy: collective narratives in the age of misinformation

PLoS One. 2015 Feb 23;10(2):e0118093. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118093. eCollection 2015.

Abstract

The large availability of user provided contents on online social media facilitates people aggregation around shared beliefs, interests, worldviews and narratives. In spite of the enthusiastic rhetoric about the so called collective intelligence unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories-e.g., chemtrails, reptilians or the Illuminati-are pervasive in online social networks (OSN). In this work we study, on a sample of 1.2 million of individuals, how information related to very distinct narratives-i.e. main stream scientific and conspiracy news-are consumed and shape communities on Facebook. Our results show that polarized communities emerge around distinct types of contents and usual consumers of conspiracy news result to be more focused and self-contained on their specific contents. To test potential biases induced by the continued exposure to unsubstantiated rumors on users' content selection, we conclude our analysis measuring how users respond to 4,709 troll information-i.e. parodistic and sarcastic imitation of conspiracy theories. We find that 77.92% of likes and 80.86% of comments are from users usually interacting with conspiracy stories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Narration*
  • Science
  • Social Media
  • Social Networking

Grant support

Funding for this work was provided by EU FET project MULTIPLEX nr. 317532 and SIMPOL nr. 610704. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.