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I’ve spoken in the past about how social media can be used to further pseudoscientific thinking, and now there’s yet another study that shows that Facebook conspiracy theorists live in an echo chamber, and apparently can’t tell when they’re being made fun of.
Italian researchers demonstrated this by looking at thousands of users who interacted with either science news pages or conspiracy theory pages on Facebook, finding that the vast majority of the people commenting on conspiracy theory pages never actually interacted with any other kind of page. So: echo chamber.
The fun part came next, when the scientists posted nearly 5,000 troll comments on the conspiracy and science news pages, sharing ridiculous unsubstantiated rumors like how someone completed a chemical composition of chemtrails, those clouds that form behind airplanes that are commonly and sanely known as contrails, and found that they contained viagra. That’s right, the government is dosing us with boner pills blasted into the atmosphere.
The researchers found that the conspiracy theorists were much, much more likely to share and like these comments.
In other words, the conspiracy theorists couldn’t differentiate between sarcasm and legitimately held conspiracy theories.
But here’s the thing: I also can’t differentiate between those two, because there really isn’t any difference. When I read the headlines claiming that scientists proved that conspiracy theorists will believe anything regardless of how stupid it is, I expected them to really come up with some stupid stuff. Instead, the best they came up with was viagra clouds. Compare that to what some people seriously believe about chemtrails: that they contain mind-altering drugs but you can help dissipate them by putting vinegar in a squirt bottle and spraying it into the air. Somehow, they believe that vinegar will travel five miles into the atmosphere and negate the effects of a bunch of poison being ejected from an airplane.
Their other “obviously false” rumors were that free energy has been discovered, something that conspiracy theorist websites report at least once a week.
So the news here isn’t that committed conspiracy theorists will believe absolutely anything no matter how stupid; it’s that they’ll believe anything within their already established realm of stupidity, without any verification.
If someone would really like to test the former idea, you’re going to have to work pretty hard to come up with any more absurd claims than what you’d already find in the average Alex Jones post. I mean, when people already fervently believe that the world economy is controlled by lizard people – actual lizard people – do you really need to spend the time proving that they can’t detect when they’re being mocked?