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.

This research program has two distinct components.
The first focuses on the dissemination of extremist discourse online in Quebec and Canada, including the use of disinformation and conspiracy. This work involves continuous monitoring of public content on the social media of certain accounts of interest in terms of intense propaganda activity. We are more interested in the dissemination strategy of these accounts than in the rhetorical elements they deploy. Their network configuration, including international influences, is also analyzed.
This project also involves monitoring the population’s permeability to these discourses, including their trust in institutions, their relationship to violence, and their beliefs in conspiracy and disinformation statements. This part of the study is based mainly on surveys.