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Digital Media Literacy

What is Conspiracy Theory?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a conspiracy theory is "the theory that an event or phenomenon occurs as a result of a conspiracy between interested parties; specifically, a belief that some covert but influential agency (typically political in motivation and oppressive in intent) is responsible for an unexplained event.  Here's how you can talk with a conspiracy theorist.

Conspiratorial Thinking

  • Why It Matters: A 2019 report from the FBI cites conspiracy theories as "a new domestic terrorist threat." Per the report, "The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual expremists to carry out criminal or violent acts."    It is now easier than ever to rapidly consume and distribute conspriacy theories.  And as we have seen with the 2016 #Pizzagate incident, these theories can have real world ramifications.
    • Increase in radicalized and extremist or violent behavior. 
    • Encourage targeting of specific people, places & organizations.
    • Mainstreaming of fringe & debunked ideas & “junk science.”
    • Contribute to polarization of society.
    • Undermine confidence in public leaders and institutions.

                                                                    Sources: 2019 FBI reportDouglas & Uscinski study 2019Culture Wars in America

Check it out!

View Conspiratorial Thinking, a great tutorial on conspiracy theories - what they are, how they operate in our culture, how to fight them - created by the News Literacy Project as part of the Project's Checkology instruction materials.The tutorial features Renee DiResta, Research Manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, which is conducting groundbreaking research on the study of the internet and society.

Videos (click each tab in the box below to view a different video)


Last updated on Jun 3, 2024 2:24 AM