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Social networks and the spread of antiscience messages

Social networks are the most widely used form of communication today. A good part of the relationships that are established between people is through communications on social networks and in them anti-science or false messages stand out. Antiscience  is a critical attitude against science, the scientific method and also common sense.

Anti-science messages usually come from a loudspeaker, a kind of alpha male (or female) who believes himself to possess the truth. It does not provide any data, but it launches a message that is very easy to assimilate, although it is empty and smoked.

Editorial of the journal Science

An editorial in the scientific journal Science  entitled  Time to unfriend Facebook? (Is it time to stop being a friend of Facebook?) talks about the impotence that the spread of fake news through social networks without any control supposes for the scientific community.

For years, attempts have been made to convince by proven data and facts of the existence of climate change and have failed miserably. There are many people who continue to believe that there is no such change in the planet’s climate. Why do they say it? Because it is more credible for them to think that what happens is easy to explain with the explanation that someone else has given them. And that other… far from being a scientist and someone who studies the climate, he is nothing more than a little concerned observer with a lot of free time.

The pandemic of antiscience

In the same way that there is a pandemic caused by a virus that causes very serious pulmonary symptoms that can lead to death, there is another pandemic that is that of anti-science messages.

The pandemic has again revealed the failure of the scientific community to convey messages about masks, vaccination or dangers of consuming horse medications or diluted bleach. Perhaps it has been because the instructions have been changing. There has been no clear criterion from the beginning, perhaps because we face an enemy that nobody expected.

And it is that, the anti-vaccines, anti-science, do not care about the dead. They care about conveying a toxic message that they have been told by a group of geniuses who tell them that there is a plandemic organized by the elites to end humanity.

Antiscience social networks

One puzzling element is how social media has been skillfully exploited by anti-scientific forces. So it’s important to ask yourself several questions. What should the scientific community do to communicate their findings on social media? Stop being a Facebook friend or beat him at his own game?

The Ugly Truth About Facebook

A few months ago, New York Times reporters Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel published An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination,in which they explained how the most social network, Facebook, fills its coffers by exploiting the viral spread of misinformation in order to convince everyone of its noble mission to connect the world.

The algorithms and business practices of Facebook and other social networks favor not paying attention to rigorous scientific information. There are two types of misinformation:

  • News that is blazenly wrong. These posts are easy to spot and are sometimes deleted by algorithms. But also, on many occasions the reader sees a notice that offloads the responsibility of Facebook and with a simple click it is ignored. That content is not deleted.
  • Misinformation propagated by conversations between users. On many occasions we can find friends on Facebook who throw erroneous messages and let it pass, even if we think it is crazy.

The problem comes from the fact that both types of information usually appear in Facebook news feeds because they generate many interactions, and the algorithm likes the gossip and assumes that the interactions must be promoted.

Telegram channels full of unverified information

Telegram channels are also an inexhaustible source of lack of rigor and transmission of anti-science messages. Communicating research in real time is not possible because science is always a laborious job and the results of a study are never definitive. In addition, they may be written in technical terms that are not very understandable to the public.

However, those same people who do not understand a scientific article are able to believe other simple articles that give them results that are definitive. The authors are possessors of the truth and transmit it without blush, even if the website is a residual page in which people without any knowledge about science publish.

This group that I share in Fig. 1 is full of anti-science messages in which vaccination is doubted and launches messages for its 21,000 members that are clearly an insult to science and to thehundreds. If you have to choose between believing what a pseudo biologist puts in a Telegram group or what the AEM (European Medicines Agency) says, you should always keep the latter. If the pseudo-biologist were so intelligent, he should be in the AEM and not spending his free time writing unfounded nonsense.

anticiencia
Figure 1. Telegram group with antiscience messages

Reason why no action is taken

Facebook in the past has indicated that it does act against false information or news. However, this is an unbelievable answer. And it is because its community of users constantly uploads pseudo-scientific information or fake news only because they share what someone else has said and Facebook is not able to control all its users.

According to Statista  Facebook has  2.74 billion active users per month with data from January 2021. It is not possible to control 2740 million users. And it does not exist because there is no person who monitors everything that is uploaded to a social network. And algorithms don’t cover all possibilities.

Changing the rules to combat antiscience

As tempting as it may be for frustrated scientists to simply delete their Facebook accounts and avoid this junk, perhaps it’s time to start responding to these anti-science groups and try to refute what they say with data.

To fight in this boxing ring, science is going to need to find its own supe figures that can compete directly with gurus who convey messages without scientific validity. Therefore, it is time to respond, to act, and to transmit what one knows to convince other people that perhaps it is time to start believing in science and not in bizarre figures who do not get vaccinated and doubt the existence of a virus so deadly that it has changed the world.

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