COVID-19, Disinformation and Hateful Extremism

Literature Review Report

Published in: gov.uk website (2021)

Posted on RAND.org on July 14, 2021

by Kate Cox, Theodora Ogden, Victoria Jordan, Pauline Paille

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This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, disinformation and hateful extremism. Pandemics are inherently fast-moving and information is constantly evolving, creating opportunities for hateful extremist groups to spread doubt, fear and suspicion among the public. Forums such as 4Chan and Reddit are hubs for real-time debate, conspiracy theories and disinformation. Similarly, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube play a role in generating and amplifying false information. During lockdown and with rising unemployment, more people have been spending time at home and online, with greater exposure to false information and hateful extremist narratives.

Particularly in the COVID-19 context, it is important to ensure that today's digital generations are equipped to identify hateful extremism and false narratives in order to build societal resilience. As COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge and a catalyst for false information, this rapidly developing area requires research input. There is a need to consolidate existing research, better understand the evidence base and address gaps to inform primary research, policy planning and decisionmaking.

In July 2020, the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) commissioned Ipsos MORI and RAND Europe to undertake a study to examine hateful extremism within society during COVID-19. This report presents the findings of a literature review conducted by RAND Europe on the links between hateful extremism and false information, and on associated online interventions and policy responses. The study team addressed six research questions under the two review themes:

Review theme 1: Links between hateful extremism and false information

  • 1.1: What impact can false information have on hateful extremist beliefs and behaviours?
  • 1.2: In what ways do hateful extremist beliefs contribute to the spread of false information?
  • 1.3: What trends and variations can be identified across different audience types, modes of false information, and extremist groups?

Review theme 2: Associated online interventions and policy responses

  • 2.1: What insights can be identified from the literature on the effectiveness of existing interventions and policy responses?
  • 2.2: What recommendations are put forward in the existing literature in relation to future interventions in this area?
  • 2.3: What transferrable lessons/'good practices' from successful interventions in related policy areas can be identified?

The research questions were addressed through a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA), which involved a review of 93 relevant papers across disciplines including psychology, political science, sociology and law.

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