There are always ethical questions involved with this sort of research, but we might assuage those by pointing out (A) nobody was killed or physically harmed in order to get these results, (B) sometimes we simply need this data, and (C) we get headlines like, “Scientists Tried Trolling Conspiracy Theorists”, and, “Facebook conspiracy theorists fooled by even the most obvious anti-science trolling: study”.
Yes, the results are about what you might imagine.
Ben Richmond of Motherboard explains:
What they found is that the people who you see trolling with conspiracy theories on non-conspiracy sites are the outliers. An astounding 91.53 percent of people who like posts on conspiracy theory pages pretty much only engage with conspiracy theory pages.
Not only that, compared to the science pages, conspiracy theory page posts are a lot more likely to be liked and shared. They call this a commitment to diffusion.
This focus on liking and sharing only from conspiracy theory pages also keeps conspiracy theorists posting and sharing amongst themselves, and rarely venture to comment or like things on the science pages.
Travis Gettys of Raw Story picked up the story and tried simplifying:
The researchers then tested the strength of these users’ biases by posting “troll information” – or sarcastic comments parodying anti-science views – on Facebook.
“These posts are clearly unsubstantiated claims, like the undisclosed news that infinite energy has been finally discovered, or that a new lamp made of actinides (e.g. plutonium and uranium) might solve problems of energy gathering with less impact on the environment, or that the chemical analysis revealed that chemtrails contains sildenafil citratum (the active ingredient of Viagra),” the researchers said.
They found that 78 percent of those who “liked” these 4,709 troll posts interacted primarily with conspiracy theory pages, as were 81 percent of those who commented on them.
The researchers also noted that anti-conspiracy theorists often wasted “cognitive resources” pushing back against these unscientific “troll” claims, even when they were “satirical imitation of false claims.”
Right. Pretty much what you would have expected.
Image note: Photo of Fremont Troll in Seattle, Washington, via My Strange Family, September, 2013.
Richmond, Ben. “Scientists Tried Trolling Conspiracy Theorists”. Motherboard. 24 February 2015.
Gettys, Travis. “Facebook conspiracy theorists fooled by even the most obvious anti-science trolling: study”. RawStory. 24 February 2015.