A Panel Study on the Dynamics of Social Media Use and Conspiracy Thinking

Studies exploring the association between social media use and belief in conspiracy theories have yielded mixed evidence. To address this inconsistency, we focus on conspiracy thinking – a predisposition to interpret events as products of secret, malevolent plots – for which contextual confounds can be better isolated. We posit that social media use and conspiracy thinking are positively related, and examine whether this relationship stems from selectivity effects, media effects, or reinforcing effects. The analysis relies on a random intercept cross-lagged panel model estimated with data from an original three-wave panel survey (N = 331) fielded in Chile. Results support the existence of a reciprocal, lagged relationship between frequency of use of social media platforms, and conspiracy thinking. In line with recent studies on social media, the association becomes manifest at the within-, rather than between-, person level. We close with a discussion of how these results align with the reinforcing spirals model.

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Sebastián Valenzuela, Trevor Diehl, Sangwon Lee & Daniel Halpern (2023) A Panel Study on the Dynamics of Social Media Use and Conspiracy Thinking, Media Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/15213269.2023.2295522