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43% of Latvian residents believe 'secret groups' run the world, says research

New research from the international think tank GLOBSEC in cooperation with the Latvian-based Center for East European Policy Studies gives some idea of the spread and nature of conspiracy theories and their adherents in Latvia.

Titled Voices of Central And Eastern Europe, Latvia Country Report, the research is fascinating but may lead to some head-scratching, too. For example, it says that while 25% of people believe in conspiracy theories in general, 43% believe the world is run by secret groups.

There is also evidence for an unpleasant strain of lingering anti-semitism with 29% of people believing that governments and institutions are "secretly controlled by Jews".

"The fact that Latvians consume news in both Latvian and Russian language opens up opportunities for conspiracy theories and misinformation to seep in through a variety of channels. The overall inclination for Latvians to believe in global conspiracy theories, however, remains low. Only 25 percent of Latvians generally believe in conspiratorial and misinformation narratives. A total of 29 percent of respondents think that Jewish people have too much power and covertly control governments and institutions around the world (51 percent reject this notion and 21 percent do not know)," the report says.

The data for Latvia were collected by sociological research company Latvian Facts from 06.03.2020 to 26.03.2020 and involved 1,002 respondents.
 

"Russia has played a major role in taking advantage of Latvia’s complex media environment to spread misinformation narratives aiming to polarise society and undermine Latvia’s capabilities as a state. Against this backdrop, with a view towards protecting democracy over the long-term, there is a need to better understand the prevalence and salience of disinformation and conspiracy theories in Latvia and the vulnerability of different groups in society to this information," the authors say.

In a conclusion likely to cause some political pushback the report says: "The prototypical profile of a respondent who strongly believes in different conspiracy theories is a male, aged 65 and older, with primary school education only. This individual also tends to come from rural areas, especially the Latgale region, and is a supporter of the political party “Harmony” (“Saskaņa”)".

The report also points to the "complex media ecosystem" and weak regulatory oversight as factors tending towards the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

"The coronavirus pandemic, nevertheless, has served as a turning point underscoring the fragility of politics in Latvia and the risks of rampant online disinformation. When populist parties and politicians use misinformation for political advantage, democracy becomes a potential casualty," the report concludes.

The full findings are available to read online and are well worth investigating.

The publication was supported by the Strengthening Public Resilience in Central Europe project led by GLOBSEC and supported by the United States' National Endowment for Democracy. GLOBSEC is a think-tank based in Bratislava, Slovakia, and has been producing similar reports on countries throughout the central and eastern European regions.

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