During 2020 and 2021 Europe has gone through an extremely uncertain time with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has given rise to a wide array of conspiracy theories related to the pandemic, for example, that the pandemic is a hoax, that the virus was created in a laboratory and that vaccination against Covid-19 is a cover-up for microchipping people.
People believing in conspiracy theories leads to negative societal effects like dropping rates of people taking vaccinations, less likelihood of voting in governmental elections, people not taking actions to reduce their carbon footprint, and people developing prejudice and racist ideas towards minorities. Furthermore, believing in conspiracy theories leads to people distrusting and rejecting official information provided by scientists and governments which in turn can lead to an alienation from society and democracy.
Throughout Europe, many young people have been homeschooled during the pandemic and have therefore been isolated from their friends and teachers. During this period the use of social media among young people has increased and the combination of isolation from peers and increased input from social media, where conspiracy theories thrive, could be an ideal situation for conspiracy theories to flourish among younger groups. Studies have shown that young people have a relatively low ability to reason about the information on the internet, to distinguish between news and advertising, and to judge the reliability of a website. Indicating that young people’s skills in critical thinking and critical media literacy are fairly low. Moreover, research has shown that people with low media literacy are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories
The overall aim of the Critical Balance project is to prevent the risks that come from believing in conspiracy theories including racism, intolerance, and resistance towards science, among youth. The specific objectives of the project that will work towards achieving this aim are:
1. Support and build capacity among youth workers with innovative methods and training on how to confront and prevent conspiracy believes, especially the ones with a racist core, among young people both in online and offline practices.
2. Increase critical thinking and critical media literacy skills among young people to
better understand and deal with conspiracy theories when confronted with them, and thereby better cope with the novel risk and implication of digitalisation and the availability of disinformation.
Result 1: Mapping of conspiracy theories in Europe
is a PDF document that will be available online and for downloading. The result will map the situation of conspiracy theories in Europe related to young people. Including, 1. A list of prevalent conspiracy in Europe 2. Young people’s media and news usage connected to conspiracy theories and 3. Outlining youth workers’ capacity in relation to critical thinking/critical media literacy and conspiracy theories.
Result 2: The E-Book for youth workers on critical thinking and conspiracy theories
will be available online and for downloading. The e-book is a resource for youth workers in better understanding how conspiracy theories relate to each other, how social media and media consumption interacts with forming opinions, psychological input in why people believe in conspiracy theories and why critical thinking and critical media literacy is the best weapons for preventing conspiracy theories.
Result 3: The Toolbox with critical thinking and critical media literacy exercises
includes a minimum of 24 interactive, informal, and nonformal exercises for youth workers to implement with young people. The learning exercises all focus on increasing the level of critical thinking and critical media literacy among youth.
Result 4: E-platform with exercises in critical thinking and critical media literacy
provides a slick educational platform that combines PR 1, 2, 3 with a well-known tool like the magazine-style Pop Quiz and using the results to target a tailored and framed video response.