Scientists have developed artificial intelligence (AI) that tells us how COVID conspiracy theories are spread online.
Multiple conspiracy theories have come to light over the course of the pandemic. From the virus being a result of 5G, to the vaccine being created so tech mogul Bill Gates can implant microchips into people, it’s safe to say some of them have been pretty wild.
Many of these theories have been spread online, and scientists think they’ve worked out a way to find out just how these theories have snowballed as far as they have.
In a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Twitter data was analysed that was then categorised into four different conspiracy theory themes: 5G cell towers spreading the virus; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation planning the pandemic; the virus being created in a lab; and that COVID vaccines (before the studies were finalised) would be dangerous to people.
The AI then analysed 1.8 million tweets that contained COVID keywords, The Independent reports, which scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory then categorised into whether it was misinformation or not. They then provided context for each of the theories through the first five months of the ongoing health crisis.
Dax Gerts, a computer scientist and co-author of the study from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, explained:
From this body of data, we identified subsets that matched the four conspiracy theories using pattern filtering, and hand labelled several hundred tweets in each conspiracy theory category to construct training sets.
‘This allowed us to observe the way individuals talk about these conspiracy theories on social media, and observe changes over time,’ he continued.
Study co-author Courtney Shelley also explained how they wanted to make their study slightly different to those that have been done before.
She said in a statement, ‘A lot of machine-learning studies related to misinformation on social media focus on identifying different kinds of conspiracy theories. Instead, we wanted to create a more cohesive understanding of how misinformation changes as it spreads.’
As per The Independent, one of the study’s key findings was that as conspiracy theories enveloped, people would begin to take information from other unrelated theories and real-world events making it even further from the truth.
It’s hoped that by being able to monitor these conspiracy theories online, public health officials will be able to identify the ones that are gaining traction on social media and address them quickly so misinformation isn’t being spread.
Shelley said that if officials don’t do this, the might ‘run the risk of inadvertently publicizing conspiracy theories that might otherwise ‘die on the vine”.
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