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The new media monster

Conspiracy theories are flourishing during the crisis. How to combat this? Five questions for Katharina Nocun.

Frau mit Aluhut
© dpa

Katharina Nocun is a civil rights campaigner, internet activist and journalist. In 2020 she and Pia Lamberty published the bestseller ‘Fake Facts. Wie Verschwörungstheorien unser Denken bestimmen’.

Ms Nocun, conspiracy theories are booming at the moment. How dangerous is this?
Whoever believes that the virus doesn’t exist is protecting neither themselves nor others. Right now, many people are very worried about relatives and friends who are being taken in by tales of conspiracies. This development shouldn’t be taken too lightly, because it can result in deadly consequences. People who believe that medical science is a huge conspiracy, might not go to the doctor anymore, although they are seriously ill. In fact, they may even go to a faith healer instead of consulting a physician. The result could be fatal.

Katharina Nocun
Katharina Nocun ©

Is the current conspiracy boom an internet phenomenon?

During the years of Nazism, anti-Semitic conspiracy myths were a key component of National Socialist propaganda. It was even taught in schools. Blaming the internet for the spread of conspiracy theories is very short-sighted. Of course, people spreading conspiracy ideologies are indeed using platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Telegram. But there are also numerous accounts on these platforms that are raising awareness about the dangers of conspiracy myths. And by the way, there are also examples of classic media that are offering a platform for conspiracy ideologies. So it’s not all that simple.

People who make blanket statements about election fraud, eventually stop using their right to vote.
Katharina Nocun

The belief in conspiracy myths reduces trust and confidence in institutions and serious media. Does this endanger democracy?
People who make blanket statements about all elections being rigged, eventually stop using their right to vote. In a democracy it’s normal to argue about different opinions. But when groups start inventing their own facts, it endangers our ability to find good solutions to urgent issues. This applies not only to the pandemic.

So how can we combat this?
People are less likely to believe in conspiracies if they are already aware of the strategies used by the ideologists who are spreading them, and if they are already sensitive to these issues. It is crucial to include this kind of awareness in the curriculum at schools.

Interview: Martin Orth


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