NewsWorldScientists have come up with an incredible thing: Conspiracies...

Scientists have come up with an incredible thing: Conspiracies and infectious diseases have a lot in common – Topky

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News and information no longer come from newspapers or television. Social networks are one of the most widely used news sources today. However, if false reports, so-called hoaxes or conspiracy theories, are spread there, it can have negative effects. For example, they can affect choices or health and risky behavior.

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Julian Kauk of the Psychological Institute of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena investigated whether conspiracy theories about Covid-19 spread on social networks in a similar way to the disease itself and how the spread of theories could be limited.

Source: Getty Images

5G network

Kauk used a well-known method for his research: he transferred an epidemiological model for calculating the course of an infectious disease to a set of social phenomenon data. In his research, he focused on the social network Twitter and, using targeted hashtags, retrospectively generated a set of data on the conspiracy theory “coronavirus # 5G”, which has already passed. Conspiracy theory stated that the pandemic was due to the expansion of the 5G data network. Although not supported by any scientific evidence, it has spread rapidly on various social networks.

Kauk transferred to this data set the epidemiological model of SIR (Susceptible, Infected, Removed) – which in the medical environment indicates the course of susceptible, infected and recovered from infectious disease. The incidence in the case of a false report shows how many “new infections”, ie the use of a hashtag, will take place per day.

Based on this occurrence and the resulting curve, the psychologist can determine how the number of those who are sensitive to the theory, those who have already become “infected,” and those who have already turned away from the theory will change. Compared to the course of the pandemic, Covid-19 found an amazing similarity: He was able to show that biological and psychological infectious processes can be excellently described by the same mathematical models.

Scientists have come up with an incredible

Source: SITA / AP Photo / Matt Rourke, File

Timely checking of facts and deleting of false messages will help

Julian Kauk extended his research on the dissemination of false reports with a new approach: He examines how measures against false reports could affect the course of the curve. To this end, Kauk’s work simulates, on the one hand, the possibility of verifying facts and clarifying them in time, and, on the other hand, deleting tweets. A young scientist from Jena concludes that fact-checking has a corrective effect, especially at the beginning of the spread of conspiracy theory. However, this countermeasure loses its strength as the theory spreads.

Deleting tweets is less effective, but effective no matter the time. “Early response and response to conspiracy theory are essential to control the spread,” says the psychologist. “Very timely verification of the facts, especially in combination with the slight removal of tweets, is, according to the model, the best strategy to limit the spread of conspiracy theories.”

Scientists have come up with an incredible

Source: Getty Images

The implementation of theory into practice is still ahead of us

In his research, Julian Kauk focuses mainly on ways to limit the spread of conspiracy theories. “The spread of so-called conspiracy theories is increasingly becoming a serious social problem. Psychology has a great responsibility here to uncover the mechanisms that lead to the spread of conspiracy theories or other misinformation.” explains the leader and co-author Prof. Dr. Stefan R. Schweinberger from the Institute of Psychology. This clearly shows the further potential of the research area.

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The SIR model used has already been tested for use in infectious diseases, but not for use in other areas. Theoretical comparability therefore requires further empirical control. “The application of the SIR model was the first attempt to show that such models of infections can be used outside of medicine. In order to truly calculate the spread of conspiracy theories, the model needs further modification.” says Kauk and emphasizes the theoretical perspective of his work. In addition, it is necessary to check which other models allow such a prediction. And it is also necessary to transfer the simulation of countermeasures to empirical practice and check it there.

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