The bloggers strike back
Recently Demos released a new paper about conspiracy theories and counter-terrorism. The paper looks at the role of conspiracy theories in extremist groups, violent ideologies and radical doctrine, analysing over 50 extremist groups from the far right, the far left, religious groups and cults. At the heart of many of these are conspiracy theories.
We argue that conspiracy theories, coupled with an extremist ideology, can act as a 'radicalising multiplier', which may push a group in a more radical direction. For this reason the paper proposes that the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy should be more transparent, to avoid fuelling conspiracies; and that the education system needs to do more to equip young people with critical thinking skills. We also see a stronger role for civil society in rebutting conspiracy theories.
The response to our paper has been enlightening. It has fired through conspiracist websites and 'alternative information' channels at breakneck speed, demonstrating how avidly and effectively conspiracists use social media. By critiquing conspiracism, the paper has also effectively joined the pantheon of conspiracy theories: we have been accused of being part of 'the system', putting out government propaganda and planning to indoctrinate children. This response to criticism points to the powerful self-affirming nature of conspiracy theories.
We see many points made in our paper already validated. The paper pops up as a 'straw man' in online conspiracy theory forums, where the coverage is universally critical. These discussions rarely go into detail and few of the people seem to have read the paper in full, but instead appear to have scanned it for the most incriminating sections. The focus on one of our recommendations, open infiltration, is a case in point.
In the report we urged civil society to do more to engage with conspiracy theories. So this is what we plan to do ourselves, on this blog, starting from now.