People who “do their own research” are likely to reject the mainstream narrative and are far more likely to believe so-called “conspiracy theories,” according to a new research published in the science journal Nature this week.
According to the new research, people should be discouraged from doing their own research and must be encouraged to accept the official narrative presented by the mainstream media.
“The four most dangerous words are ‘do your own research’,” said Chirag Shah, a professor of information science at the University of Washington. “It seems counterintuitive because I’m an educator and we encourage students to do this. The problem is people don’t know how to do this.”
In other words, the elites want us to trust the mainstream media implicitly, and stop asking questions or researching anything on our own because we “don’t know how to do this.”
Joshua Tucker, co-author and co-director of NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics told Vice’s Motherboard about the research.
“The question here was what happens when people encounter an article online, they’re not sure if it’s true or false, and so they go look for more information about it using a search engine. You see exactly this kind of suggestion in a lot of digital literacy guides.”
Tucker explained that the research team was interested in understanding how people verify breaking news that has just happened and has not yet had a chance to be verified by fact-checkers like Snopes or PolitiFact.
In the first experiment of their study, which began in late 2019, some 3,000 people across the US evaluated the accuracy of news articles that had been published in a 48 hour period about topics like COVID-19 vaccines, the Trump impeachment proceedings, and climate events. Some articles were collected from reputable sources, while others were intentionally misleading. Half of the participants were encouraged to search online to help them vet the articles. At the same time, all of the articles were given a ‘true,’ ‘false or misleading,’ or ‘could not determine’ label by professional fact checkers.
People who had been nudged to look for more information online were 19 percent more likely to rate a false or misleading article as fact, compared to those who weren’t encouraged.
In four other experiments, which ran between 2019 and 2021, researchers found that even if people had initially rated an article as misleading, roughly 18 percent of them changed their mind and said the article was true after searching online (compared to just shy of 6 percent changing from true to false). This held even if the articles were months, instead of hours, old or if the news was well-covered, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was incredible to us how remarkably consistent this effect was across multiple different studies that we ran,” said Tucker. “That’s a real strength of this work. This isn’t just ‘Oh we ran one study’. We’re very, very confident this is happening.”
The researchers showed this effect arises because of the quality of information churned out by Google’s search engine. Partly, this was because of what are called data voids or, as Tucker put it, “the internet is full of junk theory.”
According to Shah, Google needs to “help” people to understand that doing your own research is dangerous.
“We should be equipping them with the right tools. Those tools could come and should come from tech companies and search service providers.” Adding that it’s not up to them or governments to police content. “It’s not only technically infeasible but morally and socially wrong to suppress everything.”
“First we need to have that awareness of ‘Just because you’re doing your research, that doesn’t mean that’s enough.’ The more awareness people have, the more chance we have of having people think twice about the information they’re reading,” said Shah.