Social media driving climate change and anti-vaccine pseudoscience

Myths about the international climate crisis are part of a growing trend for 'pseudoscience' spread on social media sites like Youtube.

Myths about the international climate crisis are part of a growing trend for ‘pseudoscience’ spread on social media sites like Youtube.

A new report from a German university academic has revealed that the algorithm which drives how people find content on the internet is spreading misinformation.

Joachim Allgaier of RWTH Aachen University looked at a random sample of 200 Youtube videos about climate change.

We also know conspiracy theories have a powerful appeal as they can help people make sense of events or issues they feel they have no control over.

He discovered that more than half (107) of the clips claimed climate change was a conspiracy or denied humans were causing it. Those videos received the highest number of views.

In his report, Dr Allgaier said: “Youtube is an important information source for many people when they want to find information about science and research.”

He explained that conspiracy theorists latched onto scientific-style language such as ‘climate engineering’, ‘geoengineering’ or in another example of pseudoscience, ‘chemtrails’.

“This strategy could be identified as an attempt to manufacture internet bias in favour of the worldview of ‘chemtrail’ conspiracy theorists”

Dr Allgaier added that social media platforms which do not exercise editorial control provide fertile ground for opponents of mainstream science because there are no ‘gatekeepers and hence no quality control’.

The pseudoscience issue goes beyond the climate crisis and chemtrails. Infectios diseases and vaccines are a prominent area of misinformation both online and in print.

Perhaps the best-known example is the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine which some have claimed has harmful effects on children.

In another health conspiracy, rumours that chicken meat spread a bout of Nipah virus in the Indian state of Kerala in 2018 which killed 17 people were spread virally on WhatsApp.

Scientists believe the incident was sparked by fruit bats but the unfounded rumour chicken was to blame spread when one person duplicated the letterhead of the District Medical officer and spread the story online.

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Dr Santosh Vijaykumar from the University of Northumbria, an expert on how social media affects health policy, said: “The effects of misinformation surrounding the MMR vaccine and Nipah virus on human behaviour should not be surprising given we know that our memory is malleable.

“Our recollection of original facts can be replaced with new, false ones.

“We also know conspiracy theories have a powerful appeal as they can help people make sense of events or issues they feel they have no control over.”