February 27, 2024
Spiders can help understand how exciting information is circulated

Spiders can help understand how exciting information is circulated

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The New York Times – Life / Style – We live in a world full of spiders. And afraid of spiders. They creep into our minds as much as they do into our closets, reducing the insect population that would otherwise bother us. That guy in the corner, whose net is modestly spinning, is he poisonous? Are you going to attack me? Should I kill her? Could she be – no she couldn’t be – but she might be – a black widow?

Catherine Scott, an arachnologist at McGill University, is familiar with the notoriety of spiders. When she tells people what she does, she is often shown the “Once upon a time a spider bit me” story. Here’s the thing, she said, if you don’t see a spider stinging near you, or you see one on your body, the sting mark on your skin is probably caused by something else. There are more than 50,000 known species of spiders in the world, and only a few of them can harm humans.

“Even healthcare professionals don’t always have the best information, and they often misdiagnose bites,” Scott said.

Researchers recently discovered that global media reports are riddled with misinformation about spiders.
Researchers recently discovered that global media reports are riddled with misinformation about spiders. take photo: Judy Gallagher / Wikimedia Commons

It turns out that these fears and misunderstandings about our eight-legged friends reflected in the news. Recently, more than 60 researchers from around the world, including Scott, collected 5,348 spider bite news stories, published online from 2010 to 2020 in 81 countries and forty languages. They read each story, noting if there are factual errors or emotionally charged language. Percentage of articles they rated as interesting: 43%. Percentage of articles with factual errors: 47%.

These discoveries, Published in the magazine current biologyExpose a vast and interconnected web of misinformation. Bugs, which tend to congregate in thrillers, would travel the world in a matter of days, from India to China, Poland, Argentina and the United States. This usually started at the regional level, where the story is amplified by national and international news agencies. According to disinformation scholars, this is a hallmark of modern disinformation: the amplification of small errors that support a given narrative. It’s as much into spider news as it is for political news.

“Even a very local event, such as a farm exposure in a small village in Australia, can quickly become a news story in newspapers around the world,” said Stefano Mammola, an ecologist at Italy’s National Research Council who led the research.

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“I think this really speaks to the myths and fascination with spiders, which comes with fear,” Scott said. “There is no correct information about them.”

To gauge the thrill of the story, the group looked for frequent use of emotional words, including “demon,” “murderer,” “sinister,” “nightmare,” and “horror.” Then they listed the errors in the story. Did people call spiders insects? (They are spiders). Were they exaggerating the danger of a particular spider? Did they get a basic spider anatomy wrong?

Many of the findings, while stark, did not shock most scientists who are used to this kind of news about spiders. Whether the widespread fear of spiders came before the excitement around spiders, or vice versa, there is no doubt that the two feed on each other. “Given certain topics, we will naturally be prone to excitement,” Mamula said.

However, there were surprising results in the details of the group analysis. The Coverage of spiders varied widely by country, so the news about spiders in Mexico was considered almost entirely sensational., while the news about spiders in Finland was fully approved by genealogists. In the US, coverage was mixed – publications with an international or national audience were likely to be more exciting about spiders than regional ones. There was no clear explanation for these differences.

The western black widow spider at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
The western black widow spider at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. take photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times

For example, Australia has the most dangerous spiders than almost any other country, however, News about spiders in Australian publications is consistently accurateIt is seldom charged with emotions. On the other hand, Great Britain has been the source of the greatest amount of misinformation about spiders, even though there are very few seriously venomous spider species.

“They have had to close schools several times due to reports of this false black widow,” Mamula said, noting that black widows are hardly ever found in Britain and are confused with the noble false widow, which has a very severe bite. less toxic. . “There have been cases of people burning their homes because of spiders,” he added.

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In some cases, he noted, it may be because the scarcity of spiders in an area can make an animal appear more dangerous, while their abundance can naturally make it into a kind of community exposure therapy.

The researchers are still working on how to interpret this new data set and where to go next. How is misinformation about spiders related to the spread of arachnophobia? Are there ways to avoid bad news about spiders? As Scott put it, “Is this how global news and information spreads, no matter what the topic is? Or is there something special about spiders?”

At the moment, there are only suggested answers to these questions, as the web of information and misinformation continues to be woven. / LÍVIA BUELONI GONAALVES . translation

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