This study will examine how ‘soft facts’ (rumours / conspiracy theories / ideological propaganda / false news) attached to security events influence individual and collective behaviours, and what are the most effective counter-measures for managing their consequences.
Soft facts are pliable and malleable communications that can be counter-posed with ‘hard facts’, and are information whose provenance, authority and validity is uncertain or challengeable. The analysis will attend in particular to how soft facts steer and shape perceptions and experiences of security at individual, group and institutional levels, in both online and offline settings. In addition, it will assess the efficacy of both formal and more informal interventions to manage and mitigate any negative social impacts associated with their communication.
Informed by empirical data derived from social media materials collected by the project team since 2013, the research will utilise a comparative case study design. The available datasets comprise extensive and rich material on social reactions to several terrorist attacks across Europe and other materials where police and other security actors have sought to manage crime rumours, propaganda, conspiracy theories and false news.
This focus reflects a growing awareness and concern amongst policy-makers and practitioners about how the community impacts of terrorism and other major crime events, are frequently amplified as a result of rumours, deliberately generated ‘false news’ and conspiracy theories. There is interest also in how such effects can be countered through deploying artfully constructed counter-narratives.
Project findings will be of interest to scholars and practitioners with expertise in the security domain, where it has been increasingly recognised how rumours and other forms of soft fact can have a material influence upon security situations. In addition, there is likely to be a wider constituency of interest following the Brexit referendum and US Presidential election campaigns. However, typically such discussions rely upon isolated or ‘cherry picked’ instances. The particular contribution that this study will make is in interrogating these issues through a systematic and structured, conceptually informed framework, to generate new empirical evidence and insight.
Professor Martin Innes
Crime and Security Research Institute, Cardiff University
Universities Police Science Institute, Cardiff University