Alberto Acerbi, Cultural Evolution of Medicine and Health Behaviour, Centre for Culture and Evolution, Brunel University London

In my talk, I will discuss how cultural evolution can provide a useful framework to understand how information is produced, transmitted, and selected in contemporary online, digital, media.

I will touch topics such as how online media expanded the network where cultural transmission happens and increased fidelity of transmission; how this possibly impacts on cumulative cultural evolution, i.e. the increasing complexity of artefacts from one generation to another; or how, contrarily to contemporary worries, we are, on average, wary learners that are not easily influenced, online or offline.

I will discuss more in detail how the (limited) spread of online misinformation can be seen from this perspective, focusing on the idea that some cultural traits can be successful because their content taps into general cognitive biases. Misinformation, being less constrained by reality than true information, can be manufactured to appeal to these cognitive biases. As such, online misinformation can be characterised not as low-quality information that spreads because of the inefficiency of online communication, but as high-quality information that spreads because of its efficiency. The difference is that `quality` does not denote truthfulness but psychological appeal.