Yet Another Study Shows Mainstream Media Is A Key Vector In Spreading Misinformation
from the again-and-again-and-again dept
The common “accepted knowledge” these days among many is that the rise of disinformation and conspiracy theories must be driven by social media, and Facebook in particular (with Twitter and YouTube right behind). This theory has always seemed a bit bonkers, and we’ve pointed to multiple detailed, data-driven studies that showed that cable news was a much bigger driver of misinformation than social media. Specifically, it found that conspiracy theories and misinformation and the like didn’t actually “go viral” until after it appeared on cable news.
So, it’s good (but not at all surprising) to find yet another study pointing out the same thing. This one, first highlighted by MediaPost, involved a big survey exploring the spread of conspiracy theories — and found that the mainstream media is often the biggest vector, rather than social media.
Contrary to popular opinion, we found that while technology (and social media specifically) has a role to play in perpetuating CTs, our data suggests that this is not the only source of information about CTs, and often not the main one either. People are more likely to say they heard about some CTs from a ?mainstream? news source (such as TV or a broadsheet or tabloid newspaper) than they are from a social media channel. We therefore need to be careful about locating technology as the source of the problem and indeed as the sole focus for possible solutions
In fact, the study notes:
?Our findings suggest that this highly effective disinformation campaign, with potentially profound effects for both participation in, and the legitimacy of, the 2020 election, was an elite-driven, mass-media led process. Social media played only a secondary role.?
Again, none of this says that conspiracy theories aren’t spread on social media, because of course they are. But increasing evidence suggests they don’t really catch on until the mainstream media gets involved, with TV News being a key vector and newspapers — both “broadsheets” and “tabloids” — playing a role as well. And yet, almost no one wants to explore the differing role among these other sources, and many people are solely focused on social media — perhaps because it’s new, and it’s always easy to blame the “new” thing.
But it won’t get to the root of the problem, and actually can serve to mask the real problems.