Stop the conspiracy theories – teach others to recognize them
Conspiracy theories have always fascinated, not least young people. But with the internet and social media, they spread faster and reach more groups in society than before.During the pandemic, conspiracy theories have become more visible in public spaces and in the media, in connection with the high-profile demonstrations held in several Swedish cities.As a result, it has become clear to everyone how important it is that we learn to recognize them and understand the impact they can have on society and individuals.
In this teaching example, students learn about the nature and history of conspiracy theories and what trends exist within today’s “conspiracy movement”. They then use the knowledge to identify and categorize conspiracy theories they have encountered in their own social media feeds. The work can result in a chronicle, in which students, based on personal experiences of conspiracy theories, reflect and convey knowledge to adults about what meets them in their feeds. They can also choose to interview a friend about the same thing or one of the interviewees available for student interviews on the theme. Suggestions for interviewees can be found in the teaching example below and in the Resource Bank for Young Voices for Tolerance. Please use the news article/standard article template in the Mobile Stories publishing tool for the interviews or the chronicle article template if the student is going to reflect on their own experiences. Tip students about the help texts in the info sign under each article template in the Mobile Stories tool to find out which article type fits the student’s purpose. Some students might want to invite an interviewee to a podcast. In that case, the podcast should preferably not last longer than 15 minutes.
The articles can be published and included in the Young Voices for Tolerance campaign and spread on social media with the hashtag #YoungVoicesforTolerance
In the Forum for Living History Material, The Conspiracy Theories ABC | Forum for Living History, lists the different categories into which all conspiracy theories can be divided. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency has produced the publication Conspiracy Theories and COVID-19: the mechanisms behind a fast-growing societal challenge. On page 37 there is a map of the elements of conspiracy theory. All conspiracy theories have six things in common, according to EU educational material So do you discover conspiracy theories as well as is this a conspiracy theory? Check before sharing | European Commission
Conspiracy theories sometimes have racist elements. The myth of a Jewish conspiracy plays a major role in today’s anti-Semitism. Invite students to read the chapter Myth of a Jewish World Conspiracy, which is a classroom material from the Forum for Living History. Read more about anti-Semitism in conspiracy theories in eu education: Conspiracy theories – links to anti-Semitism | European Commission
To give students a current example of how anti-Semitism is spread through conspiracy theories today, they can read an opinion article in Sydsvenskan by Klas Borell, professor of sociology and social work 21-05-02: “Anti-Semitic ideas seem to have an impact in the motley anti-vaccination movement”
Feel free to tell the students about Aftonbladet’s Martin Aagård’s podcast series “The Biggest Conspiracy” in three parts, which is both educational and very exciting to listen to.
- Source criticism and trust of sources
- Sources and credibility
- Lateral source criticism
- Digital self-test
Discussion exercise: Who/what can be a credible source? Let students make suggestions. Write up on the board or in a common document.
- Expert. If your source is an expert you have spoken to, such as a researcher, it should be clear what makes that particular person credible. The expert should have a special knowledge of exactly what they are speaking out about.
- The case. The case is an interviewee who is in some way affected by what you are writing about. It can be someone who has experienced an injustice or someone who has done something good and who can inspire others.
- Witness. A witness is someone who can confirm what you are writing about You should preferably collect more than one witness who indicates that the incident you mention in your article has taken place.
- Image. An image, still image, or moving image, showing a something happening can also be a source. Keep in mind that images may have been manipulated and are not always true.
- Document. A document can be, for example, a written letter or email, notes from a meeting or a decision from an authority or from the government.
- you. Of course, you become a source when you post something online.
Tip: Let students read the article “Responsible publisher: How journalists work with source criticism” that can be found under “Content” in mobile stories tools.
“Sources and credibility” is a model for creating structure in source auditing. When students search for information online, the classic criteria Authenticity, Time, Dependency, and Tendency should be used, in combination with checking what other sources say about the first source.
Give some suggestions for sources related to the topic, both good and some less good. Invite students to use the model below in groups to reflect on the relevance and credibility of the source in the context in which the source will be used. Then review what the students have come up with. Note, students don’t have to put a negative if they can’t find anything.
Feel free to have students read the help article “Source Criticism Methods” in mobile stories tool login mode: https://app.mobilestories.se/content/info_article_x_16812
This is a guide for those who want to source-check like a pro. This poster was produced by Therese Personne at Nya Elementar with the aim of helping schools value digital sources. Print a copy and set up in the classroom! The poster is available to download here:
Here students can take a digital self-test developed by Uppsala University in collaboration with the research institute Rise and the association Science & Public.
In this quiz, students in high school or high school can sharpen their knowledge of media, source criticism and online laws!
They can take the test up to 15 times. By explaining after each question, students can improve their performance and become more online smart every time they take the test! If they get 90 percent of the questions right, you can download a piece of evidence that they can put in their resume or share on social media.
Topics and UN Global Goals
Topics: Social sciences, history, image, Swedish and Swedish as a second language, English or other language teaching.
UN Global Goals: 16 PEACEFUL AND INCLUSIVE SOCIETIESSupport for Teachers: Difficult Issues in the Classroom | Live History Forums
Student Publisher's Ethical Rules
Read together “Student Publisher’s Ethical Rules” in the Tool (in Logged-in Mode) Mobile Stories under “Content” if you haven’t done so before.
Please also discuss what the various points mean. Put simply, they are about:
- Be careful with their sources and never publish inaccuracies or contribute to the spread of rumors online.
- Avoid hurting or offending an individual or group in society.
From idea to finished article
This guide with exercises aims to find interesting interviewees and do research on these and then figure out which contact paths are most suitable. When the time is booked, the interview itself remains, image setting, production in the Mobile Stories tool and dissemination.
Use the material in “Background” above to give students a knowledge base on conspiracy theories. Students should then choose a conspiracy theory they encountered on their social media (if they don’t think of anything, they may have some time to search). Rip up the conspiracy theories they found on the board. Divide the students into smaller groups and “distribute” a conspiracy theory to each group, which they will jointly investigate.
Students are then allowed to use the Forum for Living History’s material on how conspiracy theories are categorized, the Abc of Conspiracy Theories and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) map of the elements of conspiracy theory, Conspiracy Theories and COVID-19: the mechanisms behind a fast-growing societal challenge
All conspiracy theories have six things in common, according to EU educational material How to discover conspiracy theories. View these criteria for students:
- An alleged, secret plot.
2. A group of conspirators.
3. “Evidence” that seems to support the conspiracy theory.
4. They falsely claim that nothing happens by chance and that coincidences do not exist. Nothing is as it seems and everything is connected.
5. The world is divided into good and evil.
6. They blame certain people and groups
- Event conspiracies
- System conspiracies
- Super conspiracies
Divide students into groups of three or four and let them discuss the following issues:
- What conspiracy theories have the group members encountered on their social media? Choose one of the theories.
2. Does “your” conspiracy theory contain all the points above? Check off one at a time.
3. Find the headline “Is it a conspiracy theory? Check before sharing” (In EU educational material How to discover conspiracy theories – you need to scroll down a bit to find it). Discuss and check the points against “your” theory.
4. Which category can “your” conspiracy theory be placed in (please use the material Conspiracy Theories abc | Forum for Living History for Guidance)?
5. Are there any racist messages in the conspiracy theory? If so, which groups (ethnic groups, religious groups, etc.) are they suspected in the conspiracy theories?
6. Who is spreading the conspiracy theory on social media?
Checklist for students for the interview:
- Keep track of your phone’s recording function. Try it before. Make sure the interviewee knows you’re recording.
- Make sure your phone is charged – bring a charger as a precaution.
- Make sure that the query battery is available to start from (but don’t forget the follow-up questions!).
- Make sure you have some prior knowledge of the person and subject through your research.
Practical tips for students during the interview: https://mobilestories.se/så-lyckas-du-med-intervjun
- Feel free to use the recording function on your mobile phone to record the interview. Feel free to use two phones to secure, or record the meeting on your computer if the meeting is done via link.
- Don’t forget follow-up questions. To do a good interview, you need to go further and deeper into each topic. Let your own curiosity rule!
- Choose a quiet recording location, if the sound is to be used in, for example, a podcast, the room should be without echo. Pillows and textiles dampen.
Tips for students when shooting:
- Think about who’s going to see the picture. What do you want the viewer to feel?
- Vary tight portraits and images from a distance, preferably in an environment that is natural for the interviewee or has other connection to the subject.
- Take many pictures from several angles! It often takes time and confidence to relax your “photo item”.
- Think norm critically, how can you break prejudice through the image?
- Let the photographed person see the pictures. If the person is satisfied, they are more likely to spread your work.
- In the vast majority of article types on Mobile Stories, landscape formats are best, i.e. images taken horizontally as in the example below.
Horizontal image of Hedi Fried. Photo: Lotta Bergseth
Now students have been given tools to recognize conspiracy theories and see how anti-Semitic messages spread through them.Students can now spread the knowledge they have gained further, by writing an article about conspiracy theories, how to recognize them and what each individual can do to stop the spread.
They can also contact one of the interviewees who has made themselves available for student interviews in the “Resource Bank for Young Voices for Tolerance“.
Before contacting the interviewee, students should conduct a thorough research on the person they are going to meet and on the subject: They should also have basic knowledge of conspiracy theories, their characteristics, the categories listed above, and about the conspiracy theories’ links to anti-Semitism. Students can work in groups or individually.
Students should, if they intend to publish the interview, tell the interviewee at the first contact that they intend to publish their work on the open platform, Mobilestories.se. Ask students to ensure that the interviewee is comfortable with this.
Select one of the experts below to do interviews about conspiracy theories or find your own person to contact:
- Daniel Poohl, Expo Foundation
Daniel is an expert on and has written books about far-right movements.
Read more about Daniel Poohl here: https://expo.se/profil/daniel-poohl
Read up on what the organization Expo does on the website and ask questions that match their and Daniel’s area of expertise.
- Martin Aagård, journalist, Aftonbladet. Martin has in three podcast episodes examined the spread of conspiracy theories in the shadow of Covid-19 and the restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic. His reportage is exciting to listen to and provides a valuable insight into the world in which conspiracy theories are spread. The review, which consists of three independent sections, can usefully be used as educational material for those who want to link the teaching of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism to what is happening in society today. Listen to Martin’s report here:
21-03-03 The biggest conspiracy| Part 3.| “The pandemic is a hoax” in apple podcasts
Reportage about those who believe that the pandemic is a scam created by “globalists” who want to introduce a total world dictatorship. An idea that leans towards the very oldest conspiracy theory in world history – the anti-Semitic one.
21-02-12: The biggest conspiracy | Part 2.| Life in the Facebook sect of Apple Podcasts
Common to all conspiracy theories is the hatred of the media. The media is lying and preventing us from knowing what is really going on in this world. But what’s going on in the social media that conspiracy theorists turn to instead? Also: How to talk to a relative who believes in conspiracy theories and Fake News?
- Klas Borell, Professor of Sociology and Social Work at Jönköping School of HealthCan be
interviewed about anti-Semitism in the anti-vaccination movement
- Annika Rabo, Professor of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University. Annika can tell you who believes in conspiracy theories and why. She is an expert on how conspiracy theories spread in Syria. Read more about her research on her page at the university below.
Creating articles about conspiracy theories can be a challenge. There is a great risk that – instead of strengthening others’ resistance to conspiracy theories – they will be given even more dissemination. For example, student reporters need to keep in mind that many will only read the title of their articles. Therefore, if the conspiracy theory itself is highlighted in the headline, it must clearly state that the conspiracy theory is false.
In their articles on conspiracy theories, the student reporters should:
- Highlighting facts and not conspiracy theories in the headlines
- Tap facts in the body using fact-checked information
- Warn that conspiracy theories are circulating before referring to them
- Explain how they are misleading
Source: How to discover conspiracy theories | European Commission Review the above points with students.
After that, it’s time to process the image and text material in Mobile Stories. Show students the help texts in the tool, both the instrumental ones under the small question marks and those under the (i) characters, or under “Content” in the main menu. Embed any sounds or movie clips according to the instructions. Ask students to put extra care into the title and preamble as well as the choice of image. Ideally, students should take their own pictures – or illustrate. If this is not possible, ask the interviewee to send pictures that are approved for use. Follow the process in the peer review tool, check queries, and editor approval. Check with the student publicist’s ethical rules. Students can publish on one or more of the sites on the Mobile Stories network and preferably on Young Voices for Tolerance. Tell students that the articles can be nominated for the Young Journalism Prize, by publishing them on the Young Journalism Prize page that all Mobile Stories schools have access to.
Tip: Let students see the help texts under “Content” in the main menu of the Mobile Stories publishing tool:
Tips from the digital editor: How to find an enticing headlineWhat you need to know about picturesTips from thephotographer: How
to capture the news image Creating articles about conspiracy theories can be a challenge.
There is a great risk that – instead of strengthening others’ resistance to conspiracy theories – they will be given even more dissemination. For example, student reporters need to keep in mind that many will only read the headline of their articles when readers scroll through their social media. Therefore, if the conspiracy theory itself is highlighted in a social media post, it must be made clear that the conspiracy theory is false.
In their posts on conspiracy theories, student reporters should:
- Highlight facts and not conspiracy theories themselves
- Warn that conspiracy theories are circulating before referring to them
- Explain how they are misleading
If students want their article, podcast, or movie to reach more than Mobile Stories readers. Let students use this inspirational tips template. Download it here:
Suggestions for reflection questions.
- What have we learned?
- Who else might have learned anything?
- What can we do when we see anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance in society? Try to list different ways to react in different contexts.