The propagation and proliferation of conspiracy narratives and disinformation is not a new phenomenon. It is an ongoing and systemic risk. However, in recent years, terrorist and extremist groups have increasingly utilised conspiracy ideologies as a tool for the radicalisation and recruitment of vulnerable individuals, exploiting their fears, uncertainties and doubts.
RAN practitioners are already aware of the ability of conspiracy narratives and disinformation to enhance the appeal of extremist narratives by providing ‘black and white’ explanations of polarising events, eroding the trust between people and governments, spreading hate speech, questioning the respect for expert analysis and in some cases, inciting and encouraging violence.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the propagation of conspiracy narratives and disinformation. Not only have there been a plethora of conspiracies and disinformation relating to the virus and the vaccines that have been developed to combat it, but the digital transformation that has been brought about by the pandemic has instigated an algorithmic accelerationism which has enabled conspiracy narratives to reach more and more people online.
In this Spotlight, RAN Practitioners, Working Group leads and academic experts share their views, insights about and their work in understanding and tackling conspiracy narratives and disinformation. Many of these topics have been addressed by RAN Practitioners through Working Group and small-scale meetings during 2021 and at the recent RAN High Level Conference and the RAN Practitioners Plenary.
The collection of articles and interviews in this month’s Spotlight do not attempt to provide a definitive explanation or indeed, solution, for tackling this enormous area of P/CVE work. However, the magazine attempts to highlight a number of dynamics, individuals, organisations and projects addressing the challenge, and add to the understanding of practitioners that are having to work harder than ever to cut through the noise created by these narratives. As always, we want to hear from you! If you would like to contribute to future editions of Spotlight, or if you have ideas for an article, interview or feature, please get in touch with the RAN Practitioners communications team.