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Diffusion dynamics of conspiracy theories and adaptation strategies in hybrid information ecologies (DIFFCONT)

Principal Investigator:
Term:
Jan 01, 2022 — Dec 31, 2024
Xixuan Zhang, Annett Heft, Kilian Bühling (v.l.n.r.)

Xixuan Zhang, Annett Heft, Kilian Bühling (v.l.n.r.)

About the project

Under the direction of Dr Annett Heft, a new research project has been dealing with the diffusion dynamics of conspiracy theories and adaptation strategies in hybrid information spaces since April 2022. The project is part of the consortium project NEOVEX, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a total of approximately 1.8 million euros. In addition to the Berlin sub-project, the project partners are the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy in Hamburg (IFSH, head of the research network), the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society in Jena (IDZ) and the School of Politics at the Technical University of Munich (HFP/TUM).

Supporters of conspiracy theories and right-wing extremist actors use crises to drive social polarisation and weaken democratic societies and their institutions. The search for scapegoats through conspiracy theories and right-wing extremist ideologies turns politicians, media representatives and people of Jewish and Muslim faith, among others, into targets. This is done not only through anti-democratic discourses, but also through justifications of violence, in the form of acts of violence and violent riots.

Currently, there is still a lack of more comprehensive research approaches that relate conspiracy theories, right-wing extremist ideologies and their strategic dissemination, especially via online platforms, and of analyses that ask what patterns and along what dynamics such overlaps and mixtures take place, how they diffuse into broader social discourses and what consequences this has for social coexistence and political processes in Germany.

In the new research project Diffusion Dynamics of Conspiracy Theories and Adaptation Strategies in Hybrid Information Spaces, led by Dr. Annett Heft, Kilian Bühling and Xixuan Zhang at the FU Berlin are researching how conspiracy theories spread across different actors and digital platforms and public spaces. We analyse the dynamics of the spread of conspiracy theories and the communication and media strategies used to adapt conspiracy narratives to the respective communication environments. The project takes a comparative (Germany - USA) and transnational perspective and uses a mix of methods from automated computational social science procedures and quantitative content analyses.

The research project is part of the research network NEOVEX: Patterns and Dynamics of Conspiracy Theories and Right-wing Extremist Ideologies in Times of Crisis. The aim of the research network is to use an interdisciplinary and integrating research approach to analyse the cross-national forms of conspiracy theories and right-wing extremist ideologies over time, as well as their functions in legitimising violence. The research network is also dedicated to investigating transnational entanglements and networks between representatives of both groups in crisis situations and the dissemination of their messages in digital information spaces. Furthermore, the handling of conspiracy theory and right-wing extremist content by technology companies will be analysed.

The consortium project NEOVEX is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a total of approx. 1.8 million euros. In addition to the Berlin sub-project, project partners are the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy in Hamburg (IFSH, head of the research network), the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society in Jena (IDZ) and the School of Politics at the Technical University of Munich (HFP/TUM).

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