Most Americans View Conspiracy Theories as Dangerous, Despite Nearly 50% Believing Alien Visits Were Covered Up by the Government

Overwhelmingly majority believe misinformation an existential threat to society; with AI and social media viewed as substantial areas of concern heading into the election.

PHILADELPHIA--()--New research from The School of Thought International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to critical thinking, reveals a nation both fearful of and susceptible to misinformation.

The survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, conducted by Propeller Insights on behalf of The School of Thought, delves into Americans' beliefs on contentious issues, including artificial intelligence (AI), conspiracy theories, and the integrity of U.S. elections.

The survey shows a strong majority support the development of media literacy and critical thinking skills, with most Americans (67.9%) urging governments and institutions to invest in initiatives that address these problems. However, around half of respondents also believe in debunked conspiracy theories, such as that the 2020 U.S. federal election was stolen due to widespread fraud (49.8%).

The Critical Thinking Alliance, a new evidence-based initiative to counteract misinformation launched this week, combines the efforts of leading academics and organizations, including and Sander van der Linden, Cambridge University professor and author of the best-selling book “Foolproof - Why misinformation infects our minds and how to build immunity.” The Critical Thinking Alliance invites other organizations, as well as the general public, to join the fight against misinformation with evidence-based approaches at

Misinformation seen as a substantial threat to society: An overwhelming majority (84%) of Americans are concerned about the impact of misinformation, with 78% saying it is an existential threat to society. Ninety percent report encountering information in the media or online that they suspected may be false or misleading.

Most (73%) are confident of their own ability to spot misinformation but are much less confident of others' ability to do so (38%).

Conspiracy theories spark concerns among Americans: The survey highlights the top conspiracy theories Americans believe in, with close to 50% of Americans believing aliens have visited Earth and governments are covering it up.

However, the bulk of Americans also agree (78%) that conspiracy theories have a detrimental effect on society, with more than two-thirds of Americans concerned about their spread.

Fears about how misinformation will affect U.S. elections: Americans are worried about how the spread of misinformation will impact upcoming U.S. elections – with more than three-quarters (77.3%) citing this as a concern.

Approximately half (49.8%) believe significant fraud occurred during the 2020 U.S. federal election, ultimately changing the outcome; only 32% say they trust the U.S. election system.

Despite the polarized nature of election fraud beliefs, there was also widespread agreement (81.9%) of wanting to work proactively to mitigate misinformation effects on the upcoming election in 2024.

Trust in traditional media plummets – or does it? Americans report they don't trust traditional news sources. Instead, the top two sources Americans "extremely or somewhat trust" are their families (57.9%) and friends (46%), followed by academic experts (38%), CNN (33.4%), Fox News (32%), and The New York Times (32%).

Only one-third (35%) say they trust traditional media. However, when asked where they get their information on significant trending issues, such as the Ukraine-Russian war (56%), the 2023 Israel-Hamas war (55.5%), and the U.S. presidential elections (57%), a majority still look to traditional news media.

Despite all the hype and money paid to influencers, trust in celebrities (15%) and people or organizations respondents follow on social media (22%) is noticeably low.

Americans say "no" to tech as news sources: A substantial majority (66.4%) of consumers believe there should be less reliance on tech and social media giants as news sources.

COVID-19 misinformation effects: Almost half (49.7%) of Americans believe their decisions were affected by disinformation or misinformation regarding COVID-19 issues such as masks, vaccines, and social distancing. More than two-fifths (43.7%) believe that the COVID-19 pandemic was intentionally created and released for political reasons.

Concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) loom large: While we are witnessing a widespread adoption of AI tools such as ChatGPT, most respondents (61%) fear AI will increase both the quality and quantity of disinformation.

There is also great concern by a slight majority (51%) for the combination of social media and AI to amplify disinformation, believing that it has the potential to "go rogue" and generate disinformation against humanity's interests.

Further, more Americans (53%) believe that the information landscape has been contaminated in 2023 by AI-generated disinformation and misinformation, such as manipulated images and automated bots, than in the previous five years – and predict it will be even more contaminated in 2024 (56%).

Rational cause for hope: Professor van der Linden's research shows that preemptive exposure to the techniques of misinformation and disinformation can have a protective 'inoculation' effect. Director of The School of Thought David McRaney, in his book, “'How Minds Change - the surprising science of belief, opinion, and persuasion,” also presents surprisingly optimistic scientific evidence showing that people are willing to change their minds under certain conditions.

"Many are concerned about misinformation and disinformation but don't know what to do about it. We're advocating for governments, organizations, and people around the world to join us in taking an evidence-based approach to address this problem and work together to mitigate its effects," said Professor van der Linden.

"There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness in the current cultural climate; however, research shows people are far more capable of changing their minds and coming to a shared understanding than is commonly believed," said McRaney.

Founder and CEO of The School of Thought Jesse Richardson added, "We can't expect the problems of misinformation and conspiracy thinking to be solved by someone else – it's up to all of us to contribute to this effort. Indeed, our shared future may depend on it.”

About The School of Thought

The School of Thought International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting critical thinking. Their free resources, published under Creative Commons licenses, have reached over 30 million people in seven languages and are used in thousands of schools and universities worldwide. The Critical Thinking Alliance is an initiative of the School of Thought and provides a non-partisan, evidence-based approach to mitigating the effects of misinformation and disinformation. A full list of partner organizations and resources is available via


Sara Delacruz


Sara Delacruz