At a time when TikTok is establishing itself as the favorite social network of young French people, what do we know about the impact of this platform on its users, who are more and more likely to use it for entertainment but also for get informed? While the health crisis has been fertile ground for the rise of conspiracy theories in a context of general mistrust of the authorities, the Reboot Foundation and the Jean-Jaurès Foundation commissioned Ifop to conduct a survey of young people aimed at measuring their porosity to scientific untruths and this with regard to their use of social networks. Between platism, astrology, creationism, witchcraft and vaccinophobia, this study shows the secession of part of the youth with the scientific consensus: the followers of conspiracy theses and more generally of irrational beliefs being particularly numerous among young people, especially among those who use social media a lot.
THE KEY NUMBERS
1 – The position of young people with regard to science is proving to be increasingly critical: only one young person in three (33%) today believes that “science brings more good to people than harm » whereas more than one in two thought so fifty years ago (55% in 1972). Conversely, the proportion of young people negatively perceiving its benefits on humanity tripled between 1972 (6%) and 2022 (17%), while the feeling that it has no impact remained. relatively stable (41%, +3 points). However, this growing distrust of science goes hand in hand with a secession with a number of “truths” gaining consensus in the scientific community.
2 – On the origins of man, for example, the survey reveals that more than one in four young people today believe in “creationism”: 27% of young people aged 18 to 24 believe that “ Human beings are not the result of a long evolution from other species (…) but were created by a spiritual force (ex: God) “. And this contestation of evolutionism proves to be particularly strong among respondents who call themselves “religious” (60%), people belonging to religious minorities attached to a literal vision of the texts (eg 71% of Muslims) and to popular categories with regard to their socio-professional category (38% of workers).
3 – Despite scientific evidence, “flatism” also finds a significant echo in French youth. While it remains marginal among seniors (3%), the idea that we are being lied to about the shape of the Earth is indeed shared by nearly one in six young people (16%). Presenting the same socio-cultural characteristics as followers of creationism, flat-earners are over-represented among the young people potentially most exposed to these theses on the Internet, in particular heavy users of online video services such as YouTube (21%), applications like Telegram (28%) or TikTok as a search engine (29%).
4 – Based on the idea that extraterrestrials would have played a role in the rise of the first civilizations, the “Alien Theory” also displays a significant number of followers: 19% of young people aged 18 to 24 subscribe to the idea that “(…) the Egyptian pyramids were built by extraterrestrials”, ie three times more than among seniors (5%). Less linked to the influence of religion on the minds, adherence to this ufological theory is particularly strong in the ranks of young people with a low socio-cultural level, perhaps because they may have been more exposed to this thesis at television via a series usurping the codes of the documentary.
5 – Referring to a more contemporary event, the “Moon hoax” theory has a growing audience among young people: 20% of young people now believe that “Americans have never been to the moon”, i.e. a proportion up 5 points in 5 years. And like most theories taking the opposite view of official information, this thesis is particularly popular among young “Muslims” (46%) or far-right (26% of Lepenist sympathizers), two categories including anti-Americanism is perhaps no stranger to their refusal to recognize the American achievement of 1969.
6 – In a post-Covid information fog conducive to conspiracy, many young people also adhere to medical “fake news” dangerous to health. The effectiveness of chloroquine against Covid-19 is thus recognized by one in four young people (25%) and they are even more (32%) to believe that “mRNA vaccines (…) cause irreversible damage to organs vitals of children. And in the confusion linked to current events on the subject, the idea that it is possible to have an abortion without risk with plants is shared by a quarter of young people (25%) and more than a third (36%) multiple daily users of microblogging networks (36%).
7 – Finally, at a time when social networks like TikTok are accused of promoting conspiracy theories (see NewsGuard study3), a significant proportion of young people seem permeable Trumpist theses on American political life. The thesis according to which “The assault on the Capitol in January 2021 was staged to accuse supporters of Donald Trump” for example has a number of followers (24% on average) twice as high among multi-daily users of TikTok (29%) than among non-users (19%). Alerting to the secession of a large fraction of young people with the media consensus, these figures are therefore very much related to the mode of information and more particularly to the use of social networks like Twitter or TikTok.
8 – This greater permeability of young people to a conspiratorial imagination is found in other scientifically unfounded beliefs such as astrology or occultism. Thus, 49% of young people believe today that “astrology is a science”, against 43% in 1999. And on other occult beliefs, this upward trend is even clearer in view of the number of young people who believe, for example, in spirits (48%, +8 points since 2004) or in reincarnation: 35% in 2022, an increase of 15 points in sixteen years. And a generational divide is emerging both in belief in the predictions of seers (38%, against 12% of seniors) and in those related to spells and witchcraft (36%, against 20% among those over 65) .
9 – It is true that young people are much more sensitive than their elders to superstitions of an occult nature. Overall, 59% believe in at least one of them, compared to 21% of the oldest. And this generational gap is found on all beliefs, whether it is about the evil eye (44%, against 10%), in ghosts (23%, against 4%), demons (19% among the youngest , against 8%) or even in marabouts (13% of 18-24 year olds, against 4%). In our view, the informational disorders of the Internet era undoubtedly accentuate the traditional permeability of the younger generations to these supernatural beliefs.
10 – This rise in conspiratorial or unfounded beliefs is part of a revolution in information practices where distrust of vertical information from the authorities has been accompanied by greater confidence in its horizontal transmission via the networks social. However, this can be problematic given the number of young people (41%) using TikTok as a search engine who believe that an influencer who has a lot of subscribers can be a reliable source. Symptomatic of a leveling of expertise, this figure reveals the lack of critical reasoning of part of the youth with regard to “popular influencers”.
“Ifop study for the Reboot foundation and the Jean Jaurès foundation carried out by self-administered online questionnaire from October 28 to November 7, 2022 with a representative national sample of 2,003 young people, representative of the French population aged 11 to 24 . »
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TikTok generation, “toctoc” generation? Survey on the misinformation of young people and their relationship to science and the paranormal in the age of social networks – IFOP
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