An interview with Media scientist Lisa Schwaiger on conspiracy myths where she explains why they threaten the social order of our societies and how to deal with this issue. Here is a summary of the points she highlights:
We have to distinguish between fake news and conspiracy myths. In the case of fake news, false information is deliberately distributed with the aim of manipulating the recipient. In science, we speak of disinformation here. Conspiracy myths, on the other hand, are narratives that assume that secret elites are pulling the strings in the background. It may be that there is a manipulative intention behind it; but also that the people who start such myths really believe in them.
Lies and conspiracy myths spreading publicly are dangerous for our social cohesion as this has become more evident in recent years. Telegram and other channels provide the ideal breeding ground for fake news and conspiracy myths. Anyone can distribute content on social media – which is good for democracies on the one hand, but very dangerous on the other if the senders fail to verify the truthfulness of the content and spread false or misleading messages. What’s more: emotionalizing social media with your likes. You rock each other up. What is liked is shared. Unfortunately, conspiracy myths spread faster than facts as they are much more entertaining than reality.
We have to understand the pandemic as a global phenomenon. Conspiracy myths are shared across national borders, especially on social media. Groups that criticize any measures taken to keep the pandemic in check are networking globally. The fact is: disinformation and the spread of conspiracy myths are a problem, but we mustn’t offer such groups too much of a stage. They are small groups that shout loudly but are not representative of society as a whole.
How the media can deal with conspiracy myths?
The media must correct the misinformation that is rampant. Simple fact checks are sufficient for this. There is still room for improvement. And: People who believe in conspiracy myths should not be vilified or ridiculed. It was certainly wrong that certain media spoke of “Covidiots”. That’s how you lose part of society.
People who go too deep are extremely difficult to reach. However, that’s not the majority. We should focus on the part of society that doubts. That takes empathy. Let’s listen better to those who are insecure. This patience will pay off for some.
Read the full interview here