Researchers Map How Scientific Misinformation Spreads On The Internet

As science advances, bad science does, too. The World Economic Forum has called widespread digital misinformation — which largely spreads via social media — one of the main threats to our society.

While online resources make it easier for people to learn about incredible scientific discoveries, social media also facilitates the proliferation of pseudoscience, scientific skepticism and conspiracy theories.

Now, scientists are coming to a better understanding of exactly how this digital information flow works. Research published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences maps out the factors that influence the spread of scientific misinformation and skepticism within online social networks — and the findings were disturbing.

“Our analysis shows that users mostly tend to select content according to a specific narrative and to ignore the rest,” Dr. Walter Quattrociocchi, a computer scientist at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Italy and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post in an email. Users are driven to content based on the brain’s natural confirmation bias — the tendency to seek information that reinforces pre-existing beliefs — which leads to the formation of “echo chambers,” he said.

In other words, people on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter connect with others over common interests. They “friend” and follow those with similar values and beliefs and filter out anyone who disagrees with them.

This behavior builds “echo chambers,” where people expose themselves only to beliefs and messages that reinforce their own — which can lead to things like climate change denial in conservative circles.

“The conservative echo chamber — Fox News, talk radio, conservative columnists and bloggers — combine to create a ‘bubble’ in which many committed Republicans live, and when it comes to scientific issues we find that they literally —> Read More