Relation of Conspiracy Theories, Disinformation, and Fact-Checking Workshop

Third panel and workshop HDF
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

The third panel of the series titled "Relation of Conspiracy Theories and Disinformation," organized within the project "Utilizing Digital Technology for Social Cohesion, Positive Messaging and Peace by Boosting Collaboration, Exchange and Solidarity," took place on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, at the Hrant Dink Foundation's Havak Hall. The panel was broadcast live on the foundation's YouTube account in English and Turkish. Moderated by Gülin Çavuş from Teyit, the panel featured speakers Dan Evon from News Literacy Project, Mariam Gersamia from Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, and Erkan Saka from Istanbul Bilgi University.

Beate Apelt, the Turkey Office Director of Friedrich Naumann Foundation, opened the panel by addressing the challenges of hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories in today's information environment. She emphasized that these phenomena not only provoke hatred but also limit freedom in society.

Gülin Çavuş, the panel moderator, introduced the speakers and shared an example of a conspiracy theory believed by approximately 34% of Turkish society. She directed questions to Dan Evon, focusing on how we can understand conspiracy theories and the impact of false information on our beliefs.

Dan Evon explained how false beliefs contribute to the formation of conspiracy theories. He identified five key factors: truth, source, proof, content, and reason, which need to be safeguarded against false claims. Highlighting the role of social media platforms in the spread of conspiracy theories, he emphasized the cyclical relationship between false news and conspiracy theories. He concluded by stressing the need for systematic, individual, and educational interventions to break this cycle.

Mariam Gersamia approached the relation between conspiracy theories and disinformation from a media psychology perspective. She highlighted that hate speech is the actual source of disinformation and propaganda. Conspiracy theories, with their populist qualities, tend to target certain groups, thereby polarizing society. Gersamia outlined four different effects caused by conspiracy theories: communicational, psychological, social/political/economic, and mistrust towards democratic organizations. To combat conspiracy theories, she emphasized the importance of obtaining accurate information.

Erkan Saka began his presentation by defining conspiracy theories as narratives and disinformation as integral parts of these narratives. He pointed out that designed narratives have a lasting negative impact on society. Saka argued that people are inclined to believe conspiracy theories because they provide interpretations of life. Distorted information sources contribute to an intellectual information crisis. With the proliferation of content creation on social media, every citizen becomes a potential producer and distributor of disinformation and conspiracy theories. Saka underscored the significance of critical thinking and critical perspectives and called for an intellectual battle against disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Continuing the series, the fourth workshop titled "Check It: Essential digital verification skills" was held on Thursday, May 4, 2023, at the Hrant Dink Foundation. The workshop, conducted by Dan Evon from News Literacy Project, aimed to enhance participants' fact-checking abilities. Thirteen participants between the ages of 14 and 21 took part in the workshop.

The workshop began with a discussion on participants' interest in fact-checking. Dan introduced the concept of critical observation, encouraging individuals to slow down and think critically about the information they encounter. He reiterated the five factors of truth, source, proof, content, and reason as essential for protecting against false claims. Through various examples, participants were guided to search for clues, examine details, and differentiate between fake and genuine information.

Following an exercise in critical observation, Dan emphasized that critical thinking alone is insufficient as a replacement for evidence. He explained how misinformation can be monetized and spread rapidly, surpassing true claims. Different techniques were introduced to evaluate the credibility of sources based on the types of misinformation, such as satire, false content, imposter content, fabricated content, and manipulated content. Participants actively engaged in fact-checking exercises, sharing suspicious aspects of different posts and employing fact-checking techniques.

Overall, the panel and workshop provided valuable insights into the relationship between conspiracy theories, disinformation, and the importance of critical thinking and fact-checking in combating the spread of false information.