MISINFORMATION, CONSPIRACY MOVEMENT AND VIOLENT EXTREMISM

Since the beginning of the pandemic, theories and rumours of all kinds have multiplied at a frantic pace concerning coronavirus disease. It evolved to such an extent that the WHO has described the situation as an “infodemic”. Although false news and conspiracy theories are not new phenomena, they have grown considerably since the emergence of media and social networks. These phenomena are expressed in different contexts, such as the rise of extremist movements (jihadists and the extreme right in particular), populism, of which the election of Donald Trump in the United States was only one manifestation, and more recently, the pandemic.

 

The potential societal risks associated with this mass misinformation are numerous: declining confidence in information and government institutions, failure to comply with health measures and increased spread, deteriorating social climate and social disorder, online radicalization and recruitment to extremist groups, and engaging in violent acts. Exposure to false news, conspiracy theories, and misinformation in general contributes to hate speech, social polarization, and violent extremism (Hassan et al. 2019). This is why the Chair has established a research program whose main objective is to improve our understanding of the phenomenon in real time. The Chair will generate convincing and conclusive data in order to develop strategies to prevent adherence to conspiracy theories by defusing false news.

RESEARCH PROGRAM

  1. “The role of communication strategies and media discourse in shaping psychological and behavioral response to the COVID-19 outbreak: a comparative analysis between Canada and two Asian countries/regions”, a project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
  2. “Infodémie et désinformation massive à l’ère de la Covid-19 : Prévenir l’adhésion aux théories du complot en désamorçant les fausses nouvelles”, project funded by the Ministère de l’Économie et de l’innovation du Québec.
  3. “De la méfiance à la désinformation : portrait et mécanismes virtuels de diffusion de la pensée conspirationniste et de ses effets potentiellement violents au Canada”, project funded by the Mobilisation des idées nouvelles en matière de défense et de sécurité (MINDS) program of the National Defence.

MAIN THEMES/ACTIONS DEVELOPPED BY THE CHAIR

  1. Mapping and network analysis of the main conspiracy influencers in Quebec (in progress) and Canada (to come). This analysis is mainly based on the massive data collection made on Twitter and more targeted collection on other platforms such as YouTube, FB, etc. ;
  2. Typology of the different movements and conspiracy theories;
  3. Research on the factors of adherence to conspiracy theories in Quebec, Canada and internationally. We are analyzing data from several surveys we have conducted in Canada and abroad (7 countries, including the United States, France, UK, etc.) ;
  4. Research on the link between adherence to conspiracy theories and sympathy for violence (data collected by Cécile Rousseau’s Social Polarizations team with whom we collaborate for this component) ;
  5. Development of a prevention campaign against adherence to conspiracy theories for 18-35 year olds in Quebec (project conducted as part of the CoVivre project, led by Cécile Rousseau et. al. with the support of a team from the UNESCO-PREV-University of Sherbrooke Chair) ;
  6. Workshops with the ministries involved in Quebec (public security, immigration, education, etc.) ;
  7. Raising awareness in practice settings (diplomacy, unions, communities, etc.) and in the media. 

 

These projects are funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Government of Quebec (Ministère de l’Économie et de l’Innovation) and National Defence (MINDS program).