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Down the Rabbit Hole: Why People Fall for Conspiracy Theories

And how to talk to those who have fallen for falsehoods.

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The News Literacy Project

Conspiracy theories have never felt more mainstream. From persistent falsehoods about COVID-19 and vaccines to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it’s clear that those who fall into echo chambers online can cause tremendous harm offline. But how—and why—is this problem so pervasive?

These are the questions we think about daily at The News Literacy Project, the leading provider of news literacy education in the U.S. Here, we’re sharing a collection of articles and podcasts to help you understand the appeal of conspiratorial thinking, and how recent events have been influenced by conspiratorial beliefs. Plus, you’ll find resources to help you talk to anyone in your life who’s fallen down the rabbit hole and needs a hand climbing out—whether they realize it or not.

Can You Search Like a Pro? [INTERACTIVE]


NLP: “This is a super fun, interactive challenge with disinformation expert and former CIA officer Cindy Otis. You get to practice your online search skills by researching the ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ conspiracy theory.”

The Great (Fake) Child-Sex-Trafficking Epidemic

Kaitlyn Tiffany
The Atlantic

NLP: “A fascinating article about how well-meaning Americans are duped into believing and supporting a cause—in this case, a conspiracy theory that was pushed through the #SaveOurChildren hashtag, and went mainstream quickly. This piece dives into the real-world rallies it spurred as well as examples of how some people will double down on their beliefs, even when confronted with evidence. The Atlantic ran this as part of their excellent Shadowland project, which dives into conspiracy thinking in America.”

‎Truthers: Tiffany Dover Is Dead* [LISTEN]

NBC News

NLP: “Warning: This is an unnerving podcast. We follow reporter Brandy Zadrozny as she traces the aftermath of nurse Tiffany Dover fainting after getting the Covid-19 vaccine. Online conspiracy theorists were quick to push the narrative that she died, leading Zadrozny on a six-episode journey to debunk the viral rumor and prove that Dover is, indeed, alive. Spoiler, she is.”

Death by Conspiracy? [LISTEN]


NLP: “Another riveting podcast, this one with 11 short episodes (2-14 minutes each). Reporter Marianna Spring leads an investigation into the death of Gary Matthew, showing how he was drawn into online conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and how they eventually led to his death.”

Productive Conversations Without Confrontation [WATCH]

News Literacy Project

NLP: “In this video, our own John Silva offers advice on talking with loved ones in a time of extreme polarization. He recommends practicing PEP—Patience, Empathy, and Persistence—to help family members veer away from misinformation and conspiracy theories. This webinar—part of a series for older adults in partnership with Senior Planet from AARP—was originally delivered in time for Thanksgiving 2021, but stays true and relevant for all family gatherings.”

Conspiratorial Thinking Lesson [INTERACTIVE]


NLP: “This interactive lesson from our free e-learning platform allows users to discover why people are drawn to conspiracy theories and how our cognitive biases can trick us into believing they’re real. It’s filled with practical examples and short videos to help us guard against getting involved in conspiracy theories and understand why others do.”

News Literacy Project

The News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan education nonprofit, is building a national movement to advance the practice of news literacy throughout American society, creating better informed, more engaged and more empowered individuals—and ultimately a stronger democracy. Learn more about its work at newslit.org.