News Literacy Project: “Unfortunately, many conspiracy theory believers are thrilled by the opportunity to feel like they have access to forbidden or secret knowledge—a chance to seem smarter than others. It certainly adds to the appeal, and immediately undermines the efforts of loved ones trying to pull them out.”
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.
NLP: “Up next, this New York Times feature about ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ founder Peter McIndoe, and the Gen Z-led ‘experiment in misinformation’ about the Birds Aren’t Real movement. We also made this think sheet to examine how people view this parody conspiracy theory both inside the movement and among outside observers.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
NLP: “This article effectively sums up common methods for how conspiracy theory believers construct and share their beliefs in ways that are effectively immune to debunking. As the author says, ‘While news articles can be fact-checked, personal beliefs cannot.’”
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.