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Conspiracy Theories and Radicalization | Citizen Support


The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was characterized by fear, multiple deaths, panic and many conspiracy theories about the origin and the intent of the virus. Then came the vaccines and the conspiracy theories abounded and wouldn’t let up about big pharma and the other big one was the covert intention of the West to neuter Africans. We have all heard one conspiracy theory or another concerning Covid or any other topic of public interest for that matter. What exactly is a conspiracy theory and how perhaps can you be able to identify one as you innocently consume content both online and offline? According to Britannica, a conspiracy theory is an attempt to explain harmful or tragic events as the result of the actions of a small powerful group. Such explanations reject the accepted narrative surrounding those events; indeed, the official version may be seen as further proof of the conspiracy. Typically, conspiracy theories increase in prevalence in periods of widespread anxiety, uncertainty, or hardship, as during wars and economic depressions and in the aftermath of natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes or pandemics. The features of a conspiracy theory almost always involve: an alleged secret plot, a group of conspirators, ‘evidence’ that seems to support the conspiracy theory, false suggestion that nothing happens by accident and that there are no coincidences; nothing is as it appears and everything is connected, division of the world into good or bad and the use of people and groups as scapegoats.


Social media has been a great force multiplier in the fast spread of conspiracy theories about many things and has created various online networks of echo chambers on specific topics all the while enabling violent extremists to reach out to a wider and more diverse audience.


Conspiracy theories have long been exploited for many varied reasons by religious groups, political groups, marketers and various economic actors. Terror groups have not been left far behind, much of the radicalization material and narratives proffered to potential recruits is largely rooted in a number of conspiracy theories thinly veiled as truths about the cause that they are being called to support. According to Mohammed Garry et al., violent extremists employ conspiracy narratives as a "rhetorical device" to advance their ideologies, identify scapegoats and legitimise use of (indiscriminate) violence. Violent extremist groups mostly exploit conspiracies which have strong emotional appeal in order to lure and validate their various ideologies to the new recruits. Conspiracy theories also act as an adhesive in keeping extremist groups together and pushing them in more extreme directions, resulting in violence. Conspiracy theories have been an anchor for jihadist militancy and groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh have employed victimhood-based conspiratorial narratives that portray Islam as being under siege, which requires fighting back by to defend the religion.



No one is safe or exempt from believing conspiracy theories, humans generally are prone to confirmation bias simply because our brains are wired to seek out the path of least resistance. The easy route of information to confirm what we already know and exposure to media that appears to validate certain positions serves to further increase belief in conspiracy theories. Social media has been a great force multiplier in the fast spread of conspiracy theories about many things and has created various online networks of echo chambers on specific topics all the while enabling violent extremists to reach out to a wider and more diverse audience. These networks are then capable of being translated to violent extremism offline. Research has shown that having alternative narratives can stifle the effectiveness of conspiracy theories and prevent individuals from taking up the calls to action against violence. Consequently, actors in the prevention and countering violent extremism space (P/CVE) space need to delve further into carefully crafting counter and/or alternative conspiracy theories to infiltrate the various online networks in order to curb conspiracy theory-driven terrorism.

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