New story in Technology from Time: That Instagram Post Everyone Is Sharing Is Just Another Viral Hoax

This week, celebrities including Usher, Pink, and Leslie Bibb, along with politicians like former Texas governor Rick Perry, shared identical Instagram posts warning of an alleged upcoming change to Instagram’s terms of service that would in part afford the company broad permissions to use your pictures, messages, and other information how it sees fit.

“Everything you’ve ever posted becomes public from today,” reads the oddly worded viral post, which includes questionable legalese citing a law applicable to the sale of goods and a treaty related to trying war criminals. “Even messages that have been deleted or the photos not allowed.”

But no such change is coming. The message is a hoax.

“There’s no truth to this post,” Facebook spokesperson Stephanie Otway said in an email to TIME. This isn’t the first time the company has had to deal with hoaxes related to copyright infringement and user privacy. In 2012, a nearly identical memo was making the rounds on Facebook, which owns Instagram.

 

The perennial reoccurrence of these privacy hoaxes underscore how little many social media users understand about the rules governing what they share online, despite the privacy concerns pushing them to post such notes. Among the language in this week’s viral post is a line forbidding Instagram from doing anything with the photos you share: “With this statement, I give notice to Instagram it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents.”

But by opening an Instagram account and posting content there, users are giving the company certain permissions to distribute their photos, videos and so on.

“We do not claim ownership of your content, but you grant us a license to use it,” reads a section of Instagram’s Terms of Use under the heading “Permissions You Give to Us.” “Instead, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our Service, you hereby grant to us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings).”

TIME has reached out for clarification on how and how often Instagram uses its license in relation to user-uploaded content. Other social media services have similar language in their terms of service.

More troubling than anything Instagram is doing with your photos and videos may be the data the company collects to tailor content and ads to appeal to each user. The company’s trove of data collected from users includes device attributes ranging from their Bluetooth signal strength and device battery level to their movements within the app itself. So while the memo may be useless, its vitality highlights a disconnect between the privacy violations users seem to be concerned with, and what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If social media users decided to take a closer look at the data they’re actually sharing instead of haphazardly protecting themselves with unenforceable legal jargon, what Instagram does with their photo of last week’s dinner might be the least of their concerns.

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New story in Technology from Time: How To Make Your Phone’s Battery Last Longer

You’ve probably noticed your phone’s battery life decreasing over time. It’s not just in your head — as batteries age, they gradually lose their ability to hold a charge. And sometimes, other situations cause your battery to struggle, like a 2017 controversy in which Apple apologized for intentionally slowing down iPhones with older batteries to prevent sudden shutdowns.

There are a few ways you can get your phone battery to last longer, drawing out the time between the dreaded 15 percent mark and when your battery goes fully dead. Here are some tips you can use to make your phone’s battery last longer, regardless of whether you’re using an iPhone, Android or anything else.

Keep your phone’s software updated

Phone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung issue updates for their devices all the time. It can be annoying when it feels like you’re constantly updating your phone, but those updates are there for a good reason: Having the latest, most efficient software can help make sure your phone is giving you the most battery life possible. (They also help keep your phone more secure.)

Generally speaking, you can see if you need to update your phone by navigating to the Settings app. From there, you’ll find options to update software, likely under a General tab then under Software Update. This may be slightly different depending on the phone you’re using.

Limit background battery use

Your phone should have a page dedicated to battery usage, typically found by navigating to the battery section of your Settings app. Depending on your device, a graph may appear, displaying how much battery life each of your apps are typically eating up.

Many apps run and refresh in the background while you’re using different software. You can choose to allow specific apps to do this, set it so all apps can do this, or prevent specific apps from doing this. If a particular app is using a lot of battery life, you could also choose to uninstall it completely.

Here’s how to change your background usage settings:

On iOS

Navigate to Settings, select General, then Background App Refresh. From there, you can select Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi & Cellular Data, or Off.

On Android

Open the Settings app, hit Battery, then tap the More symbol and click Battery Usage. From there, your device will list how different apps are using battery life. Click the app for which you’d like to display background use, then select Background restriction. When the Restrict app? notice pops up, click Restrict.

Dim that screen

Keeping your phone screen’s brightness all the way up can really eat away at battery life. When you’re low on battery life, you’ll also want to avoid doing anything that needs a lot of processing power, like playing games, watching videos or using navigation apps.

Another option is to turn off push notifications, which can light up your display even when you’re not using your phone, thus using battery life. The process will be slightly different depending on your phone. Generally speaking, head to Settings, Notifications, then select the relevant application. From there, you’ll select the option to disable notifications.

Disconnect

If you’re desperate to save your phone’s battery life, turn on airplane mode, then manually re-activate Wi-Fi and connect to a wireless network. In general, connecting to the internet over Wi-Fi uses less battery power than with cellular networks — plus you won’t have to worry so much about data overages.

Use your phone’s battery saver

Your phone’s battery saver option is an easy-to-use feature that restricts your phone’s capabilities in order to extract the most possible battery life. On iPhone, it’s called low power mode. On Android, it’s called battery saver. When your phone gets low, you should receive a pop-up that’ll let you turn on battery saver with a tap.

Here’s how to activate your phone’s battery saver mode manually:

On iOS

Navigate to Settings, then hit Battery. The low power option will be available there. According to Apple, low power mode is designed to keep your screen brightness low and minimize animations. Apps will not use background data, either. But you can still make phone calls, send messages and more.

On Android

You’ll find the battery saver option by swiping down and hitting the Battery saver icon. You can set your phone to turn on battery saver automatically by finding the Battery section in the Settings app, then looking for Battery saver. If you choose to have Battery saver activate automatically, you can also set a certain battery percentage that triggers the setting.

New story in Technology from Time: Facebook Is Rolling out a Tool to Limit Data Gathering

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Soon, you could get fewer familiar ads following you around the internet — or at least on Facebook.

Facebook is launching a long-promised tool that lets you limit what the social network can gather about you on outside websites and apps.

The company said Tuesday that it is adding a section where you can see the activity that Facebook tracks outside its service via its “like” buttons and other means. You can choose to turn off the tracking; otherwise, tracking will continue the same way it has been.

Formerly known as “clear history,” the tool will now go by the slightly clunkier moniker “off-Facebook activity.” The feature launches in South Korea, Ireland and Spain on Tuesday, consistent with Facebook’s tendency to launch features in smaller markets first. The company did not give a timeline for when it might expand it to the U.S. and other countries, only that it will be in “coming months.”

What you do off Facebook is among the many pieces of information that Facebook uses to target ads to people. Blocking the tracking could mean fewer ads that seem familiar — for example, for a pair of shoes you decided not to buy, or a nonprofit you donated money to. But it won’t change the actual number of ads you’ll see on Facebook. Nor will it change how your actions on Facebook are used to show you ads.

Even if you turn off tracking, Facebook will still gather data on your off-Facebook activities. It will simply disconnect those activities from your Facebook profile. Facebook says businesses won’t know you clicked on their ad — but they’ll know that someone did. So Facebook can still tell advertisers how well their ads are performing.

Jasmine Enberg, social media analyst at research firm eMarketer, said the tool is part of Facebook’s efforts to be clearer to users on how it tracks them and likely “an effort to stay one step ahead of regulators, in the U.S. and abroad.”

Facebook faces increasing governmental scrutiny over its privacy practices, including a record $5 billion fine from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for mishandling user data. Boosting its privacy protections could help the company pre-empt regulation and further punishment. But it’s a delicate dance, as Facebook still depends on highly targeted advertising for nearly all of its revenue.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the “clear history” feature more than a year ago. The company said building it has been a complicated technical process, which is also the reason for the slow, gradual rollout. Facebook said it sought input from users, privacy experts and policymakers along the way, which led to some changes. For instance, users will be able to disconnect their activity from a specific websites or apps, or reconnect to a specific site while keeping other future tracking turned off.

You’ll be able to access the feature by going to your Facebook settings and scrolling down to “your Facebook information.” The “off-Facebook activity” section will be there when it launches.

The tool will let you delete your past browsing history from Facebook and prevent it from keeping track of your future clicks, taps and website visits going forward. Doing so means that Facebook won’t use information gleaned from apps and websites to target ads to you on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. It also won’t use such information to show you posts that Facebook thinks you might like based on your offsite activity, such as news articles shared by your friends.

Stephanie Max, product manager at Facebook, said the company believes the tool could affect revenue, though she didn’t say how much. But she said giving people “transparency and control” is important.

Enberg, the eMarketer analyst, said the ultimate impact “depends on consumer adoption. It takes a proactive step for consumers to go into their Facebook settings and turn on the feature.”

People who say they value privacy often don’t actually do anything about it, she said, so it’s possible too few people will use this tool to have a meaningful effect on Facebook’s bottom line.

New story in Technology from Time: Facebook Is Rolling out a Tool to Limit Data Gathering

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Soon, you could get fewer familiar ads following you around the internet — or at least on Facebook.

Facebook is launching a long-promised tool that lets you limit what the social network can gather about you on outside websites and apps.

The company said Tuesday that it is adding a section where you can see the activity that Facebook tracks outside its service via its “like” buttons and other means. You can choose to turn off the tracking; otherwise, tracking will continue the same way it has been.

Formerly known as “clear history,” the tool will now go by the slightly clunkier moniker “off-Facebook activity.” The feature launches in South Korea, Ireland and Spain on Tuesday, consistent with Facebook’s tendency to launch features in smaller markets first. The company did not give a timeline for when it might expand it to the U.S. and other countries, only that it will be in “coming months.”

What you do off Facebook is among the many pieces of information that Facebook uses to target ads to people. Blocking the tracking could mean fewer ads that seem familiar — for example, for a pair of shoes you decided not to buy, or a nonprofit you donated money to. But it won’t change the actual number of ads you’ll see on Facebook. Nor will it change how your actions on Facebook are used to show you ads.

Even if you turn off tracking, Facebook will still gather data on your off-Facebook activities. It will simply disconnect those activities from your Facebook profile. Facebook says businesses won’t know you clicked on their ad — but they’ll know that someone did. So Facebook can still tell advertisers how well their ads are performing.

Jasmine Enberg, social media analyst at research firm eMarketer, said the tool is part of Facebook’s efforts to be clearer to users on how it tracks them and likely “an effort to stay one step ahead of regulators, in the U.S. and abroad.”

Facebook faces increasing governmental scrutiny over its privacy practices, including a record $5 billion fine from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for mishandling user data. Boosting its privacy protections could help the company pre-empt regulation and further punishment. But it’s a delicate dance, as Facebook still depends on highly targeted advertising for nearly all of its revenue.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the “clear history” feature more than a year ago. The company said building it has been a complicated technical process, which is also the reason for the slow, gradual rollout. Facebook said it sought input from users, privacy experts and policymakers along the way, which led to some changes. For instance, users will be able to disconnect their activity from a specific websites or apps, or reconnect to a specific site while keeping other future tracking turned off.

You’ll be able to access the feature by going to your Facebook settings and scrolling down to “your Facebook information.” The “off-Facebook activity” section will be there when it launches.

The tool will let you delete your past browsing history from Facebook and prevent it from keeping track of your future clicks, taps and website visits going forward. Doing so means that Facebook won’t use information gleaned from apps and websites to target ads to you on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. It also won’t use such information to show you posts that Facebook thinks you might like based on your offsite activity, such as news articles shared by your friends.

Stephanie Max, product manager at Facebook, said the company believes the tool could affect revenue, though she didn’t say how much. But she said giving people “transparency and control” is important.

Enberg, the eMarketer analyst, said the ultimate impact “depends on consumer adoption. It takes a proactive step for consumers to go into their Facebook settings and turn on the feature.”

People who say they value privacy often don’t actually do anything about it, she said, so it’s possible too few people will use this tool to have a meaningful effect on Facebook’s bottom line.

New story in Technology from Time: Instagram Will Enable Users to Flag Posts They Think Are Fake

Instagram users in the U.S. will soon be able to report content they deem to be fake as the Facebook-owned app joins the fight against online misinformation, Reuters reporte.

The new feature, announced Thursday, will allow users of the photo and video-sharing app to flag suspicious posts. Flagged content will no longer show up in Instagram’s “explore” page, and will also be removed from hashtag search results.

Stephanie Otway, a Facebook company spokeswoman, said the feature is “an initial step as we work towards a more comprehensive approach to tackling misinformation.”

The app has previously made other efforts to crack down on misinformation — in May, Instagram introduced image-blocking technology to detect content that had been debunked on Facebook, which then would have its reach similarly limited.

Social media sites have become fertile ground for peddling online misinformation, which has been on the rise and blamed for spreading falsehoods including medical hoaxes and fictitious political content ahead of elections.

Instagram’s efforts to fight misinformation lag behind those of Facebook, which has 54 fact-checking partners working in 42 languages and last year removed more than 500 pages spreading false content.

A report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee found that Russian actors received more engagement on Instagram than Facebook around the time of the 2016 elections, suggesting that Instagram was a bigger tool at election time.

The report said Instagram is “likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis” and could play a crucial role in the 2020 elections.

New story in Technology from Time: Use These 11 Tips to Get (Even More) Productive in Google Docs

Nearly everyone needs a place to do some serious writing, whether it’s the notebook in your bag or the text editor on your computer. For the millions of people with a normal Google account or work-related G-Suite account, that place is Google Docs, where you can create, share, and store documents in the cloud, accessible wherever you’ve got a web browser.

But having a convenient place to do your writing one tab over from your ongoing Cookie Clicker game is one thing; understanding the tools at your disposal to make the work you do easier is another.

Here are some essential shortcuts, tips, and suggestions to make every word written in Google Docs count.

Track Your Word Count by the Paragraph

Need to hit your report’s 5,000-word goal? Are you aiming to keep your cover letter under a page? If you’re curious about the word count of your document, it’s easy to check. Visit Tools > Word Count to get a quick overview of the number of pages, words, and characters.

While that’s valuable information, it doesn’t help if you’re trying to shorten a particular section, or discern where you need to add a few sentences. The fix is simple: Highlight the selection you’d like to analyze, and select Word Count again. You’ll see your selection’s word count compared to the document’s entire count, giving you that extra information necessary to fit your prose into its future container.

Finally, Easier Superscripts

Mathematicians, scientists, and other fans of exponents will appreciate the ability to easily add superscript and subscript text to their documents without digging into the system’s catalog of characters. After highlighting the text in question, hit Format > Text, then select either superscript, subscript, or whatever text transformation option you’d like to use. You can also use “Ctrl-.” or “Cmd-.” to ditch the menu and use your keyboard.

Check Out Google’s Cache of Awesome Fonts

Google Docs has a few dozen fonts for you to choose from right off the bat, but for some that just doesn’t cut it, especially if you’ve got a particular one tied to whatever you’re writing — be it for your business or personal project. Thankfully, a few extra clicks will grant you access to a veritable storehouse of open-source fonts from Google itself.

To access the Google Fonts catalog, simply hit the font drop-down menu (next to the header drop-down menu) and select “More Fonts.” You’ll be greeted with a window full of fonts to scroll through and add to your personal collection for use anywhere (you can even download them to your computer to use anytime you’d like). By visiting the Google Fonts site, you’ll be able to do more granular searches for particular styles, and sort based on features you’re looking for.

Dictation Doubles as a Transcription Tool

Whether you’ve got a three-minute or three-hour conversation to transcribe, listening to yourself talk only to type it all out is excruciating punishment, and pretty boring. So instead of agonizing about it (or paying someone else to do your dirty work), use Google’s built-in dictation tool to “transcribe” the conversation and save yourself the headache of typing it all out by hand. In addition to the Chrome browser, you’ll need some headphones to keep from confusing the dictation tool. Other than that, it works like a charm.

Before you set about transcribing, be sure to set your default language by going to File > Language. Then, look for Tools > Voice Typing. From there, hit the microphone, talk while you play the file back, and watch as Google turns your audio into text right there in the document.

Use Headers to Break Down Big Documents

Headers aren’t just useful for separating topics in your kid’s book report, they double as a quick navigation tool for longer documents. Creating headers is easy, just select the Normal Text dropdown menu and pick your header size.

For some even simpler organizing, you can also use bold text as substitute headers, so long as the text is on its own, with a line break above and below it. If you want to see the fruits of your labor, go to View > Show Document Outline to open the outline navigation sidebar.

Work Offline to Dodge Distractions

The internet can be pretty distracting if you’re trying to finish a time-sensitive project. Instead of looking at apps and services to curb your content consumption while you create your own (and falling down that rabbit hole), here’s a better idea: Turn off your Wi-Fi and work offline.

Before you cut your connection to the web, you’ll need to download the Google Docs Offline extension first. After you install it, visit your document of choice and select File > Make Available Offline. Now, all your changes will be saved locally, and sync with the web when you’re back online. You’ll know you’re offline when you see a small lightning bolt icon next to your document name, indicating its disconnection from the web.

Link to Everything, Even Your Own Documents

Sticking links in your documents is fairly simple — just highlight the text you want to link, hit Ctrl-K (or Cmd-K), and type in your URL — but that’s not all. If you’re working on multiple documents, perhaps with multiple people involved, you can link to other documents rather than external web pages. Instead of pasting or typing in a URL for a webpage, copy and paste the URL of the document you’d like to link. You can also search for it when you bring up the link window, and have Google search through your Google Docs account for items matching your search terms.

Linking to documents provides a three-line overview showing you the document title, owner, and the last time any changes were made. That makes keeping multiple documents —perhaps part of an overarching guide or report — easier than visiting each one to see when the last modification happened, especially if you know some edits are overdue.

Build Your Personal Dictionary for Fewer Misspellings

Properly spelling that one word you always mess up, or correctly nailing the esoteric medical terms you’re studying is an annoyance many can live without. Luckily, Google Docs lets you build a dictionary of your own, complete with unfamiliar words, accents, or terms found only in your weird science-fiction screenplay. Visit Tools > Spelling and grammar > Personal dictionary. Add your words of choice, and keep your document error-free.

Version History, a Disaster’s Best Friend

Sometimes you just wish you could go back and find that choice phrase you wrote before dismissing it to the ether with a quick backspace. Other times you wish you could recover that first draft of a document before your co-writer or manager took the axe to every Oxford comma you lovingly inserted. To take advantage of Google Docs’ revision history feature, visit File > Version history to either “bookmark” the current version of your document, or visit past versions, seeing where and when changes were made to your document.

Custom shortcuts bring text expansion to the web

I don’t know about you, but typing out “two-factor authentication” every time I need to talk about protecting myself online feels needlessly time-consuming. There are tons of other words, names, and phrases everyone spells (or misspells) on a daily basis, words that would benefit from a text expansion tool. Well, Google Docs has one built-in, making it easy to turn that default greeting you send to every new client, colleague, or peer into a three-letter shortcut.

Visit Tools > Preferences to find the Automatic Substitution list, pre-populated with shortcuts for things like fractions and arrows. Add your own shortcut phrases (making sure they don’t belong to actual words you use on a daily basis) along with the full, expanded result you’d like to see.

One great use? You can use a phrase like “wmail” to drop in your work-related email address, or “xintro” to quickly paste in some traditional boilerplate text to the start or end of your document. You can even make shortcuts for symbols, and type something like “( c )” to easily add a copyright symbol or other seldom-used character.

New story in Technology from Time: Conspiracy Theories Can Have Dangerous Consequences. Here’s Why Experts Say We Can No Longer Ignore Them

Conspiracy theories, both powerful and enduring, can wreak havoc on society. In recent years, fringe ideas prompted a gunman to storm a Washington, D.C. pizzeria and may have motivated another to fatally shoot 11 worshippers inside a Pittsburgh synagogue. They are also largely to blame for a worldwide surge in measles cases that has sickened more people in the U.S. in the first half of 2019 than in any full year since 1994.

Now, the FBI says conspiracy theories “very likely” inspire domestic terrorists to commit criminal and sometimes violent acts and “very likely will emerge, spread and evolve” on internet platforms, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Yahoo News. The May 30 document from the FBI’s Phoenix field office—the first of its kind to examine the threat of conspiracy-driven extremists—also says the 2020 presidential election will likely fuel conspiracy theories, potentially motivating domestic extremists who subscribe to them.

“It’s increasingly becoming clear that lots and lots of people believe in them, and they have negative outcomes,” says Viren Swami, a social psychology professor at Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K., who has published several studies on conspiracy theories.

Millions of people all over the world—including, by one estimate, half of the U.S. population—believe in conspiracy theories. Today, that figure may be even higher, according to political scientists and psychologists who study the phenomenon. Since researchers have not tracked these trends over time, it’s difficult to determine whether the number of people who believe in conspiracy theories has risen over the years. But experts, and now the FBI, argue an average person’s exposure to them has certainly increased, in large part because conspiracy theories are now more easily disseminated on social media.

Among the most prominent peddlers of misinformation on social media, experts say, is President Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly promoted falsehoods, using his personal Twitter account more than 100 times to voice doubts about the negative effects of climate change, contradicting an overwhelming consensus among scientists. Trump, who has more than 63 million Twitter followers, also spent years pushing the false narrative that former President Barack Obama was not born in America.

More recently, following Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide in federal jail, Trump retweeted an uncorroborated theory that suggested the death of the well-connected financier, who was charged with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy, was suspicious and somehow linked to former President Bill Clinton. When asked by reporters Tuesday whether he thinks the conspiracy theory he promoted is true, Trump said he has “no idea” but added that Clinton was a “very good friend” of Epstein who has been on Epstein’s private plane and perhaps to Epstein’s private Caribbean island, which locals reportedly dubbed “Pedophile Island.” Clinton spokesman Angel Urena called the claim “ridiculous and of course not true.”

“The chief conspiratorialist of the last 10 years is now the President of the United States,” says Harvard University researcher Joseph Vitriol, who studies political psychology. “Because of that, what we might be seeing is increased influence and pervasiveness of these beliefs.”

In 2016, when a gunman barged into the Washington, D.C. pizzeria, he had falsely believed children were trapped in a sex-trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton—a fringe idea propagated by an anonymous user known as “Q,” who favors Trump. Thousands of people, including the actor Roseanne Barr, believe or acknowledge Q’s uncorroborated musings, which started on the controversial message board 4chan.

Platforms like YouTube and Facebook have also given life to conspiracy theories and allowed many to go viral. The children’s arcade chain Chuck E. Cheese was pressured to address and debunk an allegation that it resold leftover pizza slices in February after a YouTube star made the claim in a video, which now has more than 35 million views. The theory was mostly harmless but highlights how YouTube, which boasts more than 1 billion users, is part of the problem.

“The problem with condemning conspiracy theories is that it plays into the conspiracy theorist’s mind.”Critics argue the company’s obscure recommendation algorithm system—which chooses and automatically plays the user’s next video—often leads viewers down rabbit holes, pushing them toward questionable content they might not discover on their own. “It used to be a lot harder for things to go viral,” says Micah Schaffer, a technology policy consultant who crafted YouTube’s first policies when he worked for the company between 2006 and 2009. “Now, without any human intervention, you could have a machine that says a lot of people are watching this and put it on blast to a mass audience.”

The recommendation algorithms have been successful in keeping viewers on the site and luring them to watch more videos. Over 70% of the time people spend on YouTube is driven by recommendations, YouTube’s chief product officer Neal Mohan wrote in a 2018 Variety op-ed. And about 80% of YouTube users in the U.S. at least occasionally watch the videos suggested by the platform’s recommendation algorithm, a November 2018 Pew Research Center survey found.

In January, YouTube announced it would gradually start “reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways.” Conspiracy theories were part of the targeted content, including “videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.” In June, YouTube said the number of views the harmful content gets from recommendations has dropped by over 50% in the U.S.

Facebook faced its own pressures to act in March after an Ohio teenager, who got vaccinated against his mother’s wishes, testified about the dangers of misinformation during a widely viewed Senate hearing. Ethan Lindenberger, 18, told lawmakers that his mother, an anti-vaccine advocate, mostly relied on Facebook for her information. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, and public health officials have debunked the claim that vaccinations lead to autism. Yet since January, more than 1,180 measles cases have been confirmed in 30 states, the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. in 25 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ethan Lindenberger, 18, testifies before a Senate committee about getting ­vaccinated against his parents’ wishes on March 5.
Carolyn Kaster—APEthan Lindenberger, 18, testifies before a Senate committee about getting ­vaccinated against his parents’ wishes on March 5.

“Conspiracy theories are effective at doing the things that they do,” says Mike Wood, a lecturer at England’s University of Winchester, who specializes in the psychology of conspiracy theories. “They motivate people to take actions—to vote or to not vote, to vaccinate their kids or not to vaccinate their kids, to do all of these things that are important.”

Two days after the hearing, Facebook said it would do more to mute anti-vaxxers and scrub related ads. The company has also banned high-profile propagators of conspiracy theories, including Alex Jones, saying they promote or engage in violence or hate.

Vitriol says conspiracy theories are “tremendously problematic” because they undermine trust in institutions and change perceptions of what is real. “The further we deviate from an evidence-based understanding of reality, the less likely we’re able to deal with it,” he says.

So what is the best way to deal with conspiracy theorists, especially those who are not easily dissuaded? Researchers call it the million-dollar question. The first step is to avoid belittling them, Swami says. Diminishing deeply rooted beliefs may backfire, fueling propagators and their followers to shun mainstream explanations even more. “The problem with condemning conspiracy theories is that it plays into the conspiracy theorist’s mind,” he says. “It would entrench their beliefs.”

Gunman Pizza Shop
Sathi Soma—APEdgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, N.C., surrenders to police Dec. 4, 2016, in Washington D.C. after firing a gun while claiming to investigate a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring.

Instead, experts say it’s important to understand the science behind their mentality and the environment that fuels it. Conspiracy theories thrive in polarizing political climates, researchers say. According to Swami, they spring up when people who feel politically disenfranchised seek ways to explain what’s happening in the world. “Conspiracy theories don’t just emerge in a vacuum,” he says. “It simplifies events and gives you a sense of control of your life again.”

It may not always make sense for truth seekers to confront all conspiratorialists with factual evidence when trying to change their minds. (A 2017 study found people who believe in conspiracy theories may just simply want to believe them.) But it’s still a worthwhile strategy, experts say. At least two experimental studies have shown that it works. According to the authors of a 2016 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, pointing out the logistical inconsistencies of conspiracy theories helped discredit them, especially if the person presenting the rational counter argument was perceived to be intelligent and competent.

The bottom line, experts say, is that ignoring conspiracy theories, over the longstanding fear of inflaming or promoting the ideas, is no longer an option. “The risk of doing nothing is that people who know nothing about the issue may adopt the conspiratorial account because there’s no alternative account,” Vitriol says. “If this was just a small portion of the general public in the darkest depths of the internet, perhaps you get could get away with not doing anything. But it’s too mainstream now.”

“It’s too consequential for us not to deal with it,” Vitriol adds.