Facebook mom group is a mixed bag of criticism, support and bad advice. This is something that every parent will know. They were nevertheless mainstream communities that parents could connect with about what is often a lonely task: raising children.
The George Washington University researchers have now discovered that Facebook Parenting Groups were infiltrated with misinformation by extremist groups just after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Misinformation and social media
While it’s well known that social media propogates misinformation, researchers have struggled to understand exactly how it happens. In order to better understand parenting communities on Facebook, researchers at GW examined over 100 million Facebook parent groups. They focused in particular on the late 2020 online health debate. The truth was that the misinformation spread from one group to another, so it turned out there were many.
“By studying social media at an unprecedented scale, we have uncovered why mainstream communities such as parents have become flooded with misinformation during the pandemic, and where it comes from,” researcher Neil Johnson, a professor of physics at GW, said in a press release.
The researchers found what they termed a “powerful, two-pronged misinformation machinery.” The more insidious of the two was a “core of tightly bonded, yet largely under-the-radar, anti-vaccination communities that continually supplied Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation to the mainstream parenting communities,” they wrote in the article. This means that these were anti-vaxxers who had already decided against vaccines.
The other prong was “a strengthening of the bond between mainstream parenting communities and pre-Covid conspiracy theory communities that promote misinformation about climate change, fluoride, chemtrails and 5G,” the researchers wrote. But these groups influenced mainstream parenting groups on Facebook through a “conduit,” the alternative health and wellness communities that inspire with peppy and inspirational messages about how to keep the immune system healthy.
Even though Facebook platform moderators are meant to be watching for this kind of thing, the anti-vaxx and conspiracy theory groups were small enough that they most likely didn’t even reach the attention of moderators.
“Our results call into question any moderation approaches that focus on the largest and hence seemingly most visible communities, as opposed to the smaller ones that are better embedded,” Johnson said. “Clearly, combatting online conspiracy theories and misinformation cannot be achieved without considering these multi-community sources and conduits.”
Their solution is one for Facebook itself to implement: “a simple yet exactly solvable mathematical theory for the system’s dynamics” that “predicts a new strategy for controlling mainstream community tipping points.” Even better, the researchers believe that their model can work on any social media platform with communities.
What can parents do to prevent misinformation from social media?
The researchers concluded that the spread of highly contagious misinformation by a few dedicated followers infected mainstream parenting groups and affected the majority of the population. Parents can only be alert to the influence Facebook can have on us.
Parents can be more critical of what they read by knowing the influence of hardcore parenting groups that most parents try to avoid. Parents can also consult their physician.