Researchers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are part of a new project to analyse how susceptible older people are to extremism and conspiracy theories on the internet.
The 2.7million Euro programme called SMIDGE, was launched in response to increasing concern from Governments across Europe at extreme political narratives found online, and how they may influence people aged 45 to 65.
“You often see research on Generation Z and younger users and how they are ‘easily influenced’ but relatively little has been done on how middle-aged people can be vulnerable to videos, posts and material that is online,” explained Sara Wilford, senior lecturer and senior research fellow in the School of Computing.
“Yet people in this age group 45-65 are actually very influential. They are more likely to vote, will have more money and influence and are more vulnerable than they think to content posted online – “fake news” if you will.
“This group is under-researched, but the impact of them being drawn into extremist content may have significant consequences on political discourse, democratic processes and institutions.”
Extreme political narratives have been rising across Europe and these narratives influence mainstream political discourses and policies.
This is having a direct impact on perceptions of democratic institutions, trust in science, and leads to calls for direct action to overthrow or disrupt democratically elected governments.
By analysing social media posts, content – video and text – posted by extremist groups and organisations affiliated with them, the research team aim to categorise the different types of narratives being shared.
Surveys, focus groups and interviews will help the researchers understand what makes people more vulnerable to extremism online, and factors which make them more likely to choose to view such content.
The study involves teams from six countries – Italy, Belgium, Kosovo, Cyprus, Denmark and the UK.
DMU’s research team – Dr Wilford, Professor Jason Lee, Professor Raouf Hamzaoui and Dr Nitika Bhalla – will be creating counter-narratives, education, training resources and policy briefs aimed at addressing fake news and disinformation working with stakeholders in the focus groups.