You may have heard of Donald Trump’s disbelief in global warming, or maybe about the legion of parents, known as anti-vaxxers, who are against vaccinating their families. Though in the past, outliers and deniers might not have mattered, social media has allowed these pseudo-scientist minorities to become prominent enough to damage their surrounding communities and the world at large.
These echo chamber-like groups on such large scales would not be possible without social media. Algorithms are designed to show people what they want, which is fine when considering what genre of TV shows show up in one’s feed, but not when reinforcing false information.
The harm of the anti-vaxx movement, which has spread via Facebook recently, is tremendous. Both unvaccinated and vaccinated children could become incredibly sick with preventable diseases, and measles outbreaks have returned. Although students are required to have certain vaccinations, the anti-vaxx minority has become more vocal, advocating against this requirement. This has also led to an exponential increase in the movement’s following, leading to an even larger unvaccinated population.
Despite the clear damage of this movement, Facebook still allows its commentary on the platform. In fact, anti-vax groups and their propaganda are actively promoted on the site—they are the first results in vaccine-related searches.
Another relatively large pseudoscience group are those who do not believe global warming is real. Its recent growth could be attributed to Trump’s disbelief in the scientific evidence, which he spreads through his Twitter account. Although the majority of these people do not have the power to help slow climate change, Trump can. With people in charge who do not support efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the U.S., regulations have begun to be repealed.
Many of those who believe in pseudoscience begin as regular users of social media who do not necessarily doubt science. However, they end up seeing a post “explaining” how modern science is misleading us that is pushed to them by the platform’s algorithm. This can lead to them joining a Facebook group or becoming a member of a community of people on Twitter or YouTube that advocates for their misconception.
We, as the users and supporters of these social media platforms, have the voices that can push these platforms to change their policies. Beyond that, it is our responsibility to scrutinize new information online as we do in our everyday lives. Only then can we cut off the spread of pseudoscience communities.