The shifting landscape of misinformation: from macro-conspiracies to micro-conspiracies

This was a fascinating comment by YouTube’s Chief Product Officer about how the misinformation landscape is shifting. We’re seeing a transition from stable narratives with broad support to rapidly evolving narratives with niche interest reflecting the compulsive search for signs which increasingly characterises social platforms: hundreds of millions desperately searching for order amidst the chaos, millions deliberately putting the pieces together in a public way and hundreds of thousands of grifters seeking influence through their cultural entrepreneurship.

The way the landscape is shifting is moving from very broad, stable misinformation narratives — 9/11 truthers, flat earthers, man on the moon stuff — to much more niche, much more quickly evolving narratives,” he said. “There were several around the election that were quintessential in that regard. … Multiply that by a couple hundred countries and it turns into quite a complicated picture.

There are intriguing hints in the interview about how YouTube might approach the problem of addressing misinformation which might exercise a significant influence but hasn’t yet. The question I’m more interested in is how much faster can micro-conspiracies form than the macro-conspiracies which gradually congealed over years? What does it mean for the public sphere when micro-conspiracies can coalesce in weeks and months for reasons that can’t be resisted without unpicking the core infrastructure of the digital public sphere?

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