he paper, titled “The spreading of misinformation online,” comes from researchers at Boston University and several prominent Italian institutions. It draws on five years of posts from 67 public Facebook pages, roughly half devoted to conspiracy theories and half about science news, plus two unrelated pages that served as a control group. After analyzing that corpus, they find that, in essence, conspiracy theories and hoaxes spread in a predictable, three-step pattern.
The probability that a science story (orange) and conspiracy theory (blue) will be shared at given hours after they’re initially posted. (PNAS)
Step 1: An individual or page posts a piece of conspiracy news or information, introducing it to their social network.
Step 2: That conspiracy is voluntarily shared and propagated by individuals who agree with the narrative — largely within the first two hours, but again at the 20-hour mark.
Step 3: The conspiracy gradually branches throughout the network over a period of days, its speed slowing but its audience growing continuously. Within a period of two weeks or so, the theory has been adopted by large portions of the community — and once they’ve been adopted, they’re “highly resistant to correction.” (Source)