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CeMAS: A better internet is possible – a better world is necessary

Conspiracy ideologies, disinformation, right-wing extremism and antisemitism are no new phenomena. Particularly in the context of social crises, there regularly is an increase in conspiracy myths. The resulting distortions in the perception of reality among significant portions of the population can lead to an increased inclination toward violence, hostility toward science, and a threat to democracies and public health. Further, conspiracy narratives and disinformation undermine trust in democratic institutions and processes by implying that they are controlled and do not report the “truth.” The apocalyptic conceptions of social conditions inherent in conspiracy ideologies push toward acts of terrorist violence, as evidenced by the attacks of the past two years on a global scale. Far-right online communities promote theses narratives, glorify the perpetrators, and encourage imitation. However, incitements to “act in self-defense” against the alleged conspirators can also be found in other conspiracy ideology communities on YouTube or Telegram.

This violence, which is found digitally, does not remain in the virtual space, but repeatedly manifests itself offline as well. This is evident during the COVID 19 pandemic in Germany. In October 2020, an explosive device detonated in front of the Leibniz Institute in Berlin. A confession letter from an alleged critic on corona measures was found on site. Known “Corona-deniers” carried out an attack on an ICE train line in the Main-Spessart district in January 2021. Overall in 2020, the Deutsche Bahn registered around 200 attacks against company employees by mask deniers. Stores closed due to hostile attacks by mask rejecters. A business owner from Eutin reports that she was not only insulted and lectured, but also deliberately sneezed on. Also the number of attacks against press representatives doubled in 2020 compared to the previous year. Nationwide, 252 crimes occurred that were directed “against the media.” Among these crimes were 22 assaults, four arsons, more than 29 cases of threats and coercion. Most of the incidents occurred in the context of the demonstrations, which were supposedly directed against the state corona measures.

Also vaccination centers are in the focus of conspiracy ideological and right-wing extremist mobilization: In Dülmen in North Rhine-Westphalia, unknown persons painted swastikas on the signs to the vaccination center at the end of 2020. In January, unknown individuals vandalized the premises of a vaccination center in Rostock. In the Vogtlandkreis district of Saxony, a Corona vaccination center was also graffitied in January 2021. Using yellow and black paint, the perpetrators sprayed the word “poison” on the building and information signs in Treuen on Saturday. In March 2021, posters with instructions to blow up the vaccination center were hung on a test center in Hamburg. During a conspiracy ideology demonstration in March 2021, the police were even forced to protect a vaccination center in Dresden with a water cannon. At this demonstration, twelve police officers were injured by demonstrators.

These above-mentioned incidents and acts of violence represent only a portion of the overall societal challenges manifested in the ongoing covid pandemic. The non-profit Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy (CeMAS) advocates for an inclusive and enlightened society. As an interdisciplinary team of scholars, journalists, and experts, we monitor and analyze developments in digital spaces. Our goal is to enable society to actively counter conspiracy ideologies, disinformation, antisemitism and right-wing extremism in the context of current challenges and future crises. To this end, anti-democratic tendencies are analyzed at an early stage and made available to various social stakeholders to enable them to constructively confront challenges facing society as a whole.

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