- Publication date
- 4 August 2022
- Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs
Despite not constituting a new phenomenon, the spread of conspiracy narratives fuelling anti-authority and anti-government sentiments has increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Moreover, conspiracy narratives and elements thereof have started to find expression in anti-vaccination attitudes and opposition to COVID-related restrictions, including protests that in some instances resulted in violence, as well as hate crimes and hate speech.
The focus of this meeting was on practitioner strategies and approaches to preventing and addressing the (threat of) violence linked to conspiracy narratives, anti-government sentiment and (right-wing) extremism, and how to keep people from crossing the line from peaceful protest to resorting to violence.
The key outcomes of the meeting are:
- When addressing the threat of violence arising from (COVID-related) protests, it is crucial to be careful not to delegitimise and securitise protest as such. There is no question that criticising and protesting the actions of one’s government is legitimate in a democratic society. Policy/political initiative is needed to deal with conspiracies, but policy responses need to be very mindful of the risk of further polarisation and securitisation.
- There is a need to better define and differentiate the target groups of protestors joining protests that turn violent, in order to develop and offer customised solutions to prevention and disengagement. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and not everyone joining a protest aims for (inciting) violence.
- It is generally not a linear development from a person consuming conspiracy narratives to them joining protests to committing violence. People who believe in conspiracy narratives may not be extremists themselves, but extremists do exploit conspiracy narratives that fuel anti-government sentiments. Therefore, protests may only serve as an opportunity for extremist groups and actors to commit violence.
- When it comes to interventions, the focus should be on identifying the personal benefits gained for a person by believing in a given narrative, and not so much about addressing the content of a particular narrative in terms of facts, as the specific contents of conspiracy narratives will change and adapt over time, also playing into local context and recent developments. If someone starts believing in certain conspiracy narratives, they are likely to start believing in others too. The underlying reasons for being susceptible to these narratives should be addressed.
- When trying to prevent the spread of (potentially harmful) conspiracy narratives, more time can be spent on focusing on the origins of the conspiracy narrative and which actors are actively distributing them. This also includes a financial element: if a conspiracy narrative is deliberately and actively spread, is someone financing these efforts?
- Practitioners need more support to keep up with and make sense of the phenomenon and the constantly evolving threats, narratives, online spaces and actors, as well as to better understand the target groups for prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE) interventions and the underlying vulnerability factors, for example through an information hub. This includes a need for up-to-date and actionable research data on the target groups in order to intervene as per their needs.