In the United States and Europe conducted a survey on belief in conspiracy theories

(ORDO NEWS) — To date, there is little systematic evidence that conspiracy theories are growing in popularity, despite what many journalists, academics, and politicians say.

This is the conclusion of a new series of surveys conducted in the US and six European countries. A new study suggests that conspiracy theories are “a more enduring and pervasive feature of human society” than is commonly believed.

But it’s not all bad news. The good news is that it doesn’t look like social media or online news outlets are to blame. While they can spread misinformation, and it’s dangerous, conspiracy theories don’t necessarily seem to attract more believers than they did in decades past.

When the researchers compared national polls about the latest and old conspiracy theories, they found no evidence of an increase in the number of believers in the modern era.

“Despite popular claims that America is sliding down a conspiracy rabbit hole into a post-truth state, we haven’t found an increase in conspiracy theories over time,” said political scientist Adam Enders of the University of Louisville.

“We studied beliefs in dozens of specific conspiracy theories, perceptions of who might be involved in conspiracy theories, and a general tendency to interpret events and circumstances as a product of conspiracy theories – in no case do we see an average rise in conspiracy beliefs.”

The first round of polls compared the American public’s belief in plots less than a year old, such as the COVID-19 plot, versus older plots, such as the Pearl Harbor plot.

When it came to the five COVID-19 conspiracies, the researchers found no evidence of an increase in belief in them during follow-up surveys between March 2020, June of that year, and May 2021.

Moreover, some of these COVID-19 conspiracies have fallen out of favor over time, such as the conspiracy that claims Bill Gates is behind the global pandemic.

QAnon is another recent conspiracy theory explored by researchers. In August 2019, 5 percent of US respondents said they believed in QAnon.

This may seem like a relatively low figure, but when the researchers asked less specific questions, up to 50 percent of Americans believed aspects of the QAnon conspiracy, such as the existence of a “deep state” or elite sex traffickers.

Interestingly, these beliefs have remained relatively constant throughout the global pandemic and the 2020 US election cycle.

“While the baseline levels of belief in these theories are normatively worrisome, in no case do we see evidence of a significant increase in their numbers over time,” the authors write.

Of the 46 conspiracy theories reviewed by the researchers, only seven grew in popularity over time in the US, and none of them were related to COVID-19 or QAnon.

The findings suggest that “new” conspiracy theories are not attracting more believers than in the past, even as the Internet acts as a megaphone for disinformation.

Comparing polls in the US and Europe conducted in 2016 and 2018, again found no evidence that conspiracy beliefs – such as those about an extraterrestrial cover-up – have increased over time.

These findings are consistent with other recent studies, supporting the new study’s conclusion that the Internet is “less hospitable to conspiracy theories than is often assumed.”

“Our findings are also consistent with research demonstrating that conspiracy theories, infodemics, and Internet echo chambers are not as widespread and influential as they are sometimes claimed, and reflect research that argues that people do not participate in conspiracy theories and do not share online as often as is sometimes assumed, the authors of the new study write.

Instead, the results suggest that increased societal awareness of conspiracy theories has created the illusion that conspiracy theories are becoming a larger problem. In fact, the popularity of these beliefs has remained relatively constant over time.

If so, then the idea of ​​a “post-truth” world needs to be reconsidered. Fighting disinformation is vital to both democracy and public health, but if we don’t know where this fake news comes from and how it convinces people, there is little we can do to change their minds.

Blaming social media may seem right, but until we gather evidence to support this explanation, it will be as baseless as the conspiracy theory itself.

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