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Internet Usage, YouTube, and Conspiracy-Mindedness in the United States

Laura Ruth Olson



The spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation poses substantial threats to democracy around the world. In the United States, entrenched political polarization is both a consequence and a ramification of the spread of biased and false information. Much of this misinformation is spread online, especially on social media. Of all the social media networks in existence, the video-sharing platform YouTube is the most significant incubator of right-wing conspiracist thinking. To what extent has internet usage affected conspiracy-mindedness in the U.S. during the Trump era? I analyze data from five waves of the Pew Research Center’s “American Trends Panel” to test the hypotheses that (1) being perpetually online, (2) keeping many social media accounts, and (3) relying on YouTube for news will increase perceptions of ‘fake news’, stoke conspiracist thinking, and help make democracy’s status in the U.S. ever more precarious. Findings indicate that reliance on YouTube for news is an especially powerful predictor of noticing fake news about COVID-19 and the 2020 U.S. presidential election; attitudes about voter fraud, Donald Trump’s challenges to the election results, and the January 6, 2021, insurrectionists; and deciding to stop talking to someone because of politics.


conspiracy; COVID-19; Donald Trump; fake news; January 6 insurrection; misinformation; politics; United States; YouTube; 2020 U.S. presidential election

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/lcm-2023-002-olsl

Copyright (©) 2023 Laura Ruth Olson – Editorial format and Graphical layout: copyright (©) LED Edizioni Universitarie

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