There have been conspiracy theories for as long as anyone remembered. Did Kennedy really die? Was there ever a man on the moon? Was September 11th an inside job?
And now that massive terror-related news stories have struck France – and hard – a whole host of conspiracies have cropped up among kids eager to share the latest snippet from the internet.
And they are proving to be a growing concern for the French government desperately trying to battle radicalization among young people, who have a tendency not to believe the official version of the story.
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (pictured below) spent Tuesday hosting a conference on the topic of fighting the spread of conspiracies at schools.
The all-day conference, held at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, saw around 300 people in attendance, including students, teachers, psychologists and lawyers.
The aim is to start a discussion about the dangers of conspiracy theories, especially after terror attacks set tongues wagging in French school yards over the past year.
One group of 16-year-olds told the BFM TV channel that there was something “fishy”, for example, about the death of the policeman during last January's terror attacks.
“You can't see any blood in the video,” said a boy called Julien. “He gets a bullet through the head but there's no blood – only dust?”
Other popular conspiracy theories include:
- That the knife-wielding man killed by police last month in northern Paris had a knife and an Isis flag planted on him by police.
- That the getaway car used by the Kouachi brothers in the Charlie Hebdo attack was not the same one recovered later by police.
- That a passport found at the Bataclan concert hall after terrorists killed 90 people in November had links to documents found at ground zero in New York after September 11th.
And it's exactly these kinds of rumours the government wants to crack down on, fearing that pupils take the conspiracies seriously because they're easy to find online.
Rudy Reichstadt, who started the French site “Conspiracy Watch“, said that theories are spreading far quicker than ever before.
“Teenagers have always been fascinated by the mysteries. But before, they'd have to go out and buy a book about it,” told Le Figaro newspaper:
A key problem is that many conspiracy sites online don't actively advertise that they're just speculations, meaning young people are more likely to believe that what they're reading is true and isn't just a theory, he added.
Tuesday's conference will focus on how to get students to think twice before believing and indeed sharing such rumours.
And in a bid to engage the young audience, officials have launched a website with more information called “We're manipulating you” (On te manipule) and set up a SnapChat account, broadcasting video snippets on the topic to anyone who wants to watch.
“Together we will build a suitable response, which will break the students' fascination with conspiracy theories and which will be based on the long-time strengths of schooling: rigour, reflection, thought and knowledge,” she said.