Antisemitic tropes are a form of misinformation that have been in circulation for milennia, having been used to ostracise and attack Jews across countries and time periods. These tropes, which have scapegoated Jews, blaming them for social ills, have persisted in the face of other cultural and social shifts, adapting to retain relevance. Their harm lies not only in the fact that they can lead to stereotyping and discrimination, but also in the fact that they can encourage conspiratorial thinking. Like all misinformation, if left to circulate unchallenged, antisemitic tropes can cause serious damage: they have the capacity to yield significant and long-lasting influence over the world view of those who encounter them.
Beth Goldberg, Research Program Manager at Jigsaw, notes,
One of the reasons misinformation is so pernicious is its ability to continue to influence thinking long after someone initially sees it. In fact, misinformation often persists even after someone has been shown a factual correction of the false claim. This is because misinformation can be “sticky,” meaning it can have what experts call a “continued influence effect” on someone’s memory and reasoning long after seeing it.
Debunking is especially difficult with conspiracy theories, which are often believed at an emotional, rather than rational, level.
According to the Debunking Handbook 202o, which was collectively authored by academics from twenty universities around the world, one of the most effective ways to tackle misinformation is to ‘prevent it taking root in the first place’.
Prevention strategies include ‘simply warning people that they might be misinformed’, ‘encouraging people to critically evaluate information as they read it’ and ‘helping people become more discerning in their sharing behavior’.
There is also a process known as ‘psychological inoculation’.
Beth Goldberg further explains,
Inoculation protects people against disinformation
by teaching them to spot and refute a misleading claim. Inoculation messages can build up people’s resistance or “mental antibodies” to encountering misinformation in the future, the way vaccines create antibodies that fight against future infection.
If people have already been exposed to misinformation, its misleading content can be countered by ‘debunking’ – though, as stated above, this process can be difficult. To be effective, the debunking process must be detailed and must involve giving people the facts, alongside warnings that the content they have encountered is a myth and explanations on how the myth has been used to mislead people.