"By Any Memes Necessary: Belief- and Chaos-Driven Motives for Sharing Conspiracy Theories on Social Media" with Christina E. Farhart, Joanne M. Miller, and Kyle L. Saunders (2023) in Research & Politics
Although a growing body of scholarship examines who believes conspiracy theories (CTs) and why, less is known about why people share CTs. We test the impact of three independent motives on people’s willingness to share CTs on social media: bolstering their or their group’s beliefs (motivated sharing), generating collective action against their political outgroup because of losing (sounding the alarm), and mobilizing others against the political system (need for chaos). Using an original survey of US adults (N = 3336), we test these three motives together and find strong evidence for motivated sharing and need for chaos, but no evidence for sounding the alarm. Our findings suggest that motivated sharing—when measured directly as belief in the CTs—is the strongest predictor of willingness to share CTs on social media. Need for chaos has less of an effect on sharing than belief but a consistently stronger effect on sharing than partisanship and ideology. Altogether, we demonstrate that sharing CTs on social media can serve both motivated and mobilizing functions, particularly for those who believe the CTs or seek to challenge the political system, rather than impugn their political rivals.