• Morten Lønstrup Kolding
  • Peter Østergaard Kammersgaard
4. term, Social Sciences, Master (Master Programme)
Conspiracy theories are defined as explanations or interpretations of events or phenomena that assert the existence of a secret conspiracy or plan carried out by one or more powerful groups. These theories often assume that official explanations or mainstream narratives conceal or distort the truth to serve their own interests. This phenomenon has increasingly gained prominence, making it almost impossible for most individuals to avoid encountering them. Moreover, conspiracy theories are described as having a potentially undermining impact on democracy and its institutions by eroding trust in the government and fellow citizens, thereby undermining the foundations of a democratic society.
In the literature, belief in political conspiracy theories has been linked to the concept of motivated reasoning. It is worth noting the connection between motivated reasoning and affective polarization, which further exacerbates the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories and possibly sharing them even when individuals know they are false. In line with the above, we argue that motivated reasoning does not necessarily lead to the belief in conspiracy theories but rather to the sharing of such theories, even when individuals do not personally believe in their veracity. Thus, belief is not necessarily a prerequisite for sharing conspiratorial material.
To examine this assertion, we employ a survey design aimed at investigating respondents' inclination to share conspiracy theories on the internet and social media. Our main findings reveal that approximately 7 percent of our participants would share conspiracy theories that they do not believe to be true. However, due to the limited size of our sample, we cannot definitively determine the motivations behind this behavior. Nevertheless, we argue that this proportion is substantial enough to warrant consideration of how to address this issue in the future. Presently, the existing strategies used to counter the sharing of conspiracy theories and fake news revolve around fact-checking and certain types of inoculation. However, when individuals knowingly share content, they acknowledge to be untrue, alternative strategies are necessary. Building on previous research, we also find that political hatred is closely associated with the inclination to share conspiracy theories concerning ideological adversaries. Overall, our study sheds light on the overlooked phenomenon of how and why some people are willing to share conspiracy theories without believing these to be true and underlines the necessity for tailored strategies to address this issue adequately.
Lastly, we emphasize the need to account for generational differences in the way we utilize the internet and social media in future research endeavors, as we believe it may play a crucial role in understanding and tackling this phenomenon effectively.
Publication date31 May 2023
Number of pages71
ID: 532253520