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.
This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.
Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/principles.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.