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How to Critically Analyze Conspiracy Theories

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Professor Renee Hobbs offers a workshop at the Digital Engagement Conference at Brooklyn College on Friday, May 5, 2017.

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How to Critically Analyze Conspiracy Theories

  1. 1. Renee Hobbs Professor of Communication Studies Director, Media Education Lab University of Rhode Island USA Twitter: @reneehobbs A Workshop: Critically Analyzing Conspiracy Theories Brooklyn College May 5, 2017
  2. 2. Can learning about conspiracy theories advance media literacy competencies?
  3. 3. Workshop: Critically Analyzing Conspiracy Theories 1. Engage: What conspiracy theories have you encountered? 2. Access: Gain information about the information context where conspiracy theories thrive 3. Analyze: A YOUTUBE VIDEO 4. Create: Develop a video annotation to synthesize learning and document analysis 5. Reflect: Should teachers screen & discuss conspiracy theory videos in the classroom? 6. Act: Tweet about what you learned
  4. 4. LOVE HATE CONSPIRACY THEORIES People have a love-hate relationship with them Who Killed JFK? 9/11 Area 51 Paul Is Dead Birtherism Moon Landings Jesus and Mary Magdalene Holocaust CIA Experiments Reptilian Elite Elvis Ebola Vaccines Global Warming
  5. 5. DEFINE SOME VOCABULARY WORDS TO UNDERSTAND CONSPIRACY THEORIES conspiracy anxiety hoax paranoid pessimism “false flag”
  6. 6. Myth: All Conspiracy Theories are False
  7. 7. ACCESS: Conspiracy Theories in an Information Age 1. Choice Overload 2. Sharing in a Network Culture 3. Six Types of Fake News 4. New Forms of Authority 5. Norms of Human Information Processing 6. Why We Share 7. How Context Shapes Text 8. Familiarity = Believability
  8. 8. Choice Overload entertainment information persuasion
  9. 9. New Realities in a Networked Global Society  Cost to produce content is low  Massive fragmentation of production & consumption  Viral sharing means popularity = profit  Content is consumed as unbundled snippets on social media
  10. 10. Six Types of Fake News Disinformation Propaganda Hoax Parody/Satire Errors in Journalism Partisanship Informing and Engaging the Public Controlling Knowledge, Attitudes & Values Cultural Criticism or Creative Expression
  11. 11. New Forms of Authority Attention economics is surpassing traditional forms of authority and expertise our attention — and most of it free — being found is valuable."  Immediacy  Personalization  Interpretation  Findability
  12. 12.  Selective exposure  Confirmation bias  Reality maintenance  Performative sharing 60% of people share content without reading/viewing it Human Information Processing
  13. 13. We share information that is ambiguous or challenging to interpret
  14. 14. Report from Iron Mountain
  15. 15. Government commission concludes: Peace is not in the interest of a stable society. Even if lasting peace "could be achieved, it would almost certainly not be in the best interests of society to achieve it.” Context Shapes Text
  16. 16. Becomes a best selling book, translated into 15 languages 1972: Leonard Lewin admits he is the author & explains its purpose as dark political satire Context Shapes Text
  17. 17. 1990: Liberty Lobby publishes the report as a public domain document Right-wing websites re- distribute it online Context Shapes Text
  18. 18. Both LEFT AND RIGHT WING radicals believe that government creates war for economic benefit Context Shapes Text
  19. 19. Familiarity Equals Believability THE POWER OF A SINGLE EXPOSURE Participants who were exposed to a conspiracy video were significantly less likely to : • think that there is widespread scientific agreement on human-caused climate change • sign a petition to help reduce global warming • donate or volunteer for a charity in the next six months. --Van der Linden, 2015
  20. 20. Workshop: Critically Analyzing Conspiracy Theories 1. Engage: What conspiracy theories have you encountered? 2. Access: Gain information about the information context where conspiracy theories thrive 3. Analyze: A YOUTUBE VIDEO 4. Create: Develop a video annotation to synthesize learning and document analysis 5. Reflect: Should teachers screen & discuss conspiracy theory videos in the classroom? 6. Act: Tweet about what you learned
  21. 21. Autocomplete Censorship
  22. 22. Media Literacy: A Pedagogy of Inquiry TEAM 1
  23. 23. Media Literacy: A Pedagogy of Inquiry 1. Who is the author and what is the purpose? 2. What techniques are used to attract and hold your attention? 3. What lifestyles, values and points of view are presented? 4. How might different people interpret this message? 5. What is omitted? TEAM 2
  24. 24. Media Literacy: A Pedagogy of Inquiry TEAM 3
  25. 25. HOW TO COMPOSE A DIGITAL ANNOTATION
  26. 26. What did you learn? What new questions have emerged? TIME TO REFLECT
  27. 27. Media Literacy: A Pedagogy of Inquiry “The thing is, Google search isn’t neutral. Like any other set of complex algorithms, search is shot through with the values of its creators.” -Wohlsen, 2016
  28. 28. DEBATE Should you teach about conspiracy theories in the classroom? Why or why not? TIME TO REFLECT
  29. 29. Media literacy educators can explore conspiracy theories to strengthen critical thinking skills
  30. 30. Teaching about conspiracy theories risks validating them  There’s not enough time in class to examine evidence in depth  There’s too much junk information online on these topics  It’s too easy to trivialize conspiracy theories, reinforcing “us” and “them” thinking
  31. 31. TWEET ABOUT SOMETHING YOU LEARNED IN THIS SESSION Using hashtag #DigiURI #conspiracy
  32. 32. Workshop: Critically Analyzing Conspiracy Theories
  33. 33. Rhetoric Print Literacy Visual Literacy Information Literacy Media Literacy Critical Literacy Computer Literacy News Literacy Digital Literacy Approaches to Analyzing Conspiracy Theories
  34. 34. re Conspiracy theories are alarm systems that help people deal with threat. They resonate most among groups suffering from loss, weakness, or disunity. --Uscinski & Parent, 2014
  35. 35. Conspiracy theories are constructed by people, they have an author, purpose, point of view & bias Even brief exposures to conspiracy theories can increase their believability Composing critical commentary about conspiracy theories using digital annotation tools may advance the development of critical thinking skills Conspiracy theories resonate in an age of anxiety by explaining complex and ambiguous realities People need to take time to reflect on how conspiracy theories are shaped by historical and political context
  36. 36. Renee Hobbs Professor of Communication Studies Director, Media Education Lab Harrington School of Communication and Media University of Rhode Island USA Email: hobbs@uri.edu Twitter: @reneehobbs WEB: www.mediaeducationlab.com

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