By Maryna Kaftan

Introduction to the Practice

In today’s society social media platforms inform and create our knowledge about the world. Given their ability to influence people’s views and feelings about the surrounding reality, they became one of the most powerful tools in distorting the perception of daily news but also the events from the past. For instance, social media can contribute to spreading forged or distorted historical primary sources. In order to address the growing challenge of biassed and inaccurate online information, this teaching practice presents 3 activities which help address historical fakes, conspiracy theories and filter bubbles in the classroom.

The Application of the Practice

For this teaching practice, Maryna Kaftan combined three activities that allow to discuss the topic of historical fakes in the classroom.

Activity 1: Explore filter bubbles

Filter bubbles are a prominent problem on social media. Due to the way in which algorithms of these platforms are set up, people are often exposed only to one set of arguments without knowing about the existence of other viewpoints. This activity prepares students to identify this challenge.

  1. In the first step, the teacher chooses a topic which caused a controversy on the social media platforms. An example of such a topic could be the Nobel Peace Prize 2022. In the light of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the decision to jointly award Ukrainian, Russian and Belarussian civil rights campaigners (Ales Bialiatski, Centre for Civil Liberties and Memorial) was perceived by some social media users as placing the victim among the representatives of aggressor countries.
  2. The teacher prepares three packs of primary sources – each one of them representing a different point of view on the matter
  3. Students form three groups
  4. Students search for information about the winners
  5. They study their packs of primary sources – reactions to Nobel Committee tweet about the winners
  6. Students write down the list of arguments displayed by the sources. They can add more arguments – and write up to 5 sentences about this event
  7. Presentation of results and discussion with other groups

An example of a source pack for students



Activity 2: Alternative history through manipulations and disinformation

This activity can reveal and put into context the elements of mythical thinking in present-day society. Commonly, myths arise about the events from the past and, hence, fuel the existing conspiracy theories. Here, the mission of Apollo 11 and the moon landing in 1969 can serve as an example. The activity which addresses manipulations in history can be conducted in four steps:

  1. Form two groups (-pro, and -con)
  2. Watch the video by Mr. Beat. Write down the arguments of your side
  3. Put them on a board side-by-side with counter arguments
  4. How do you think people came with these doubts? Are they justified? Which side would you choose? What other reasons can you give support or debunk the given arguments?

The first question, when discussing a conspiracy theory, that should be put to students is “why?” What are the reasons for which people formulate and spread conspiracy theories, like the one of moon landing?

Activity 3: Alternative History: a case of Tartaria

This activity addresses the creation of alternative history through a belief in “hidden” or “lost” cultures. Adherents of this conspiracy theory consider Tartaria as a lost civilization which cultivated a much higher standard of living and more advanced architectural styles. The reason to study: This story is spread not by one source, but by a group of believers on social media. There is no one authoritative source of information. The ideas are born and developed by numerous fans. They can also choose to believe only a part of the theory.

The discussion about alternative history, such as the example of Tartaria, can be organised in three stages:

  1. Get to know the theory (consult Wikipedia, thread on Reddit)
  2. Answer the questions
    1. What is the theory about?
    2. What historical facts does it use?
    3. What does it reject?
    4. How primary sources are used (and abused)?
    5. Why do people do it? What is the goal of creating this conspiracy theory?
  3. Fill in the table below

Age Group: 13-16 years

Planned time per activity:  15 minutes 

Obstacles and lessons learned

  • It can be time-consuming for a teacher to  include the varied points of view in the source material. 

The effect of the practice

  • Students are able to more critically assess the news appearing on the social media 
  • Students can identify the motivations and goals of formulating conspiracy theories
  • Students become more aware about the abuse of historical sources in contemporary society 
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