European Commission and UNESCO launch #ThinkBeforeYouShare campaign

The coronavirus crisis has been accompanied by a wave of misinformation and disinformation online, including various conspiracy theories. To address this new challenge, the European Commission (EC) and UNESCO recently launched a set of ten pedagogical infographics helping citizens identify, debunk and counter conspiracy theories, as part of a joint awareness campaign titled #ThinkBeforeYouShare.

Conspiracy theories are defined as "the belief that certain events or situations are secretly manipulated behind the scenes by powerful forces with negative intent". All conspiracy theories share six common features: an alleged, secret plot; a group of conspirators; "evidence" that seems to support the conspiracy theory; they falsely suggest that nothing happens by accident and that there are no coincidences; they divide the world into good or bad; and they scapegoat people and groups.

The ten infographics developed by the EC and UNESCO focus on different aspects of conspiracy theories, respectively:

  • What are conspiracy theories? Why do they flourish? – This infographic provides a short introduction to conspiracy theories: what they consist of, how they spread, how they can be so convincing, and so on.
  • Is this a conspiracy theory? Check before sharing – Designed as a decision tree, this infographic aims to teach people a simple method when trying to determine whether a story is a conspiracy theory or not, by checking the author, the source, the tone and style.
  • What about my own beliefs? – This infographic invites people to self-reflect, to inspect their own biases, prejudices, and fears, which could be at the root of their believing conspiracy theories.
  • Conspiracy theories can be dangerous – This infographic looks at the harmful consequences of conspiracy theories: they discriminate against groups and justify hate crimes; they polarise society and fuel extremism. Conspiracy theory also generated mistrust in public institutions, leading to political apathy or radicalisation, and they also spread mistrust towards scientific and medical information.
  • Conspiracy theories: the link to antisemitism – This infographic looks more closely at the conspiracy theories targeting Jewish people and lists the elements to watch out for.
  • Prebunking and debunking – Responding adequately to conspiracy theories is a huge challenge. This infographic looks at some strategies, both preventive and counteractive, to do so.
  • How to talk to somebody who firmly believes in conspiracy theories – While the previous infographic looks at countering conspiracy theories in a global context, this one focuses more specifically on talking with strong defenders of such narratives.
  • Conspiracy theories: the link to COVID-19 – This infographic looks more specifically at conspiracy theories related to COVID-19, which have been fuelled by the uncertainty, the fear and the complexity of the pandemic, identifying four red flags to look out for.
  • Concrete counter actions – This infographic offers some simple tips on how to react to conspiracy theories in various settings: on social media, on websites and blogs, and on media outlets.
  • How can journalists report on conspiracy theories? – Reporting on conspiracy theories can be a slippery slope for journalists: this infographic contains a series of recommendations in that regard.

For more information about this campaign, visit the European Commission's page "Identifying conspiracy theories" and follow the hashtag #ThinkBeforeYouShare on social media.

For more resources, the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres responded to the heightened online safety risks caused by the pandemic, by releasing a wealth of informational and pedagogical resources on various topics, including the fight against misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories.

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