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Department of Communication and Media Research Science Communication

Science-related conspiracy theories online: Mapping their characteristics, prevalence and distribution internationally and developing contextualized counter-strategies

Digital misinformation – also labelled ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ or ‘post-truth’, among others – has been widely discussed in public and political debates. The project focuses on arguably the most elaborate form of misinformation, conspiracy theories, around science-related issues, i.e. on phenomena such as flat-earth theories, anti-vaccine conspiracies, and climate change scepticism. In doing so, it take a broad international perspective, investigating conspiracy theories online with a cross-national and multi-lingual comparative vista.

First, the project develops an international mapping of conspiracy theories online, illustrating their prevalence and flow on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google. Second, it narrows the focus to generating regional knowledge about the prevalence, characteristics, and content of conspiracy theories in the German-speaking region (Switzerland, Germany, and Austria) and in Brazil. Based on these findings and our knowledge of the socio-political contexts of these two regions, it will also develop strategies that can be used to counteract the spread and impact of conspiracy theories.

This is the first study mapping science-related conspiracy theories online on an international scale. Findings from this project will contribute to scholarship of online misinformation with its unique cross-platform and cross-national advances. To policy makers and scientific communities, the project would generate knowledge to help develop counter-strategies to combat conspiracy theories.

Runtime: 2020-2023

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

Participants: Prof. Dr. Mike S. Schäfer (UZH, Principal Investigator), Dr. Jing Zeng (UZH, Co-Leader), Daniela Mahl (Doctoral Candidate, UZH), Prof. Dr. Afonso de Albuquerque (UFF, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brasil), Prof. Dr. Thaiane Oliveira (UFF, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brasil)

Total Funds: 249,923