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Campaign tools to tackle discrimination and promote critical thinking in our cities

Edited on

12 June 2021
Read time: 2 minutes

Following a seminar hosted by Rumourless Cities, Lead Expert Ruth Essex shares some thoughts on anti-discrimnation campaigning and the importance of critical literacy in our contemporary world

The growing socio-cultural diversity in our cities brings many benefits and opportunities as well as challenges. Some of the challenges are underpinned by a resistance to change and fear of difference which is often reinforced and exacerbated by misinformation and rumours.  An important focus of the Rumourless Cities network has been how cities can develop effective campaigns to counter discriminatory rumours which involve and reach a wide and diverse spectrum of their residents. A major emphasis has been on how to develop critical thinking and media literacy skills rather than just simple myth busting - framing any campaign within a much longer-term process of positive social change. 

These skills have never been more important to maintaining peaceful and democratic societies. Not that phenomena such as ‘fake news’are new, but we are now bombarded 24/7 with news, opinions and impartial ‘information' pushing and protecting particular political agendas and power structures. Algorithms further enclose people in ‘filter bubbles’ which act to reinforce biases and shrink diversity of ideas. It is easier than ever to become a passive consumer of news and data and pass this on unchecked via social media and everyday communications. This is demonstrated more recently in Covid-19 rumours and anti-vaccination fake news.

Alongside positive initiatives of mutual support and community action, Covid has posed some huge challenges to social cohesion. Unsurprisingly, right wing extremists who thrive on fear, alienation and desperation have capitalised on the pandemic situation  to spread new messages of hate. The right-wing press has exploited the situation, particularly through apportioning blame and scapegoating minority groups and migrants for their supposed flouting of social distancing and lockdown measures. 

ENAR the European Network Against Racism has been mapping the impact of Covid on the fundamental rights of racialised groups in Europe showing how the pandemic is aggravating pre-existing structural racism and inequalities including racist speech and violence. For example, since the emergence of Covid, people of Asian origin have been particular targets of abuse and blame online and offline. ENAR also reports evidence of racist rhetoric blaming Jews, Muslims, Roma and migrants for the spread of the virus. A link to the key findings of the map are here. The pandemic has also seen the emergence and proliferation of ‘covid rumours’ and conspiracies from QAnon hoaxes and the linking of COVID-19 symptoms to 5G networks to widespread anti-vaccination messenging. 

At a city and neighbourhood level we have seen wide ranging initiatives to tackle the issue of false rumours. A recent online seminar hosted by the Rumnourless Cities network looked at some current campaign tools and approaches being developed in cities across Europe.

Jannes Vahl, Director of Fair Narrative an activism, journalism and communication platform based in Hamburg, talked about his work with Hamburg Altona municipality to implement an anti-discrimination campaign to support the adoption of the new ‘Altona Declaration’-  a city manifesto which sets  out a commitment to diversity, democracy and living together without discrimination. The creation of the declaration was conceived as an important part of the campaign itself. It was developed through a highly participative process involving public debate, discussion and community events which put a high value on critical thinking skills and generated the final declaration. A key insight was that this process was done as anonymously as possible so it could not be attached to any particular leader, political party, figure head or particular agenda- a complex challenge for a campaign, without at least at this first stage, any media products to share. The emphasis was on participation in an inclusive process. This first part of the campaign formed the basis of campaign products such as posters and public endorsement by well-known celebrities, using a range of media channels. A key insight was the importance of understanding the complexity of the target audience- in this case, the whole population of the municipality- requiring the use of numerous media channels and communication approaches.

Matt Henderson shared how in Bradford they have developed an anti rumour and critical thinking strategy together with a city campaign #MakeSureItAddsUp. He emphasized the importance of political commitment as well as having a strong campaign message. In Bradford they have stayed clear of rumour mythbusting to tackle prejudice which can be counterproductive and help feed rumours and polarized debate. The challenge therefore has been how to tackle rumours without talking about them. The focus has been on increasing critical thinking skills amongst residents- which has involved culturally sensitive learning- working with community trainers and facilitators, sharing safe examples, sharing facts from credible sources and the development of campaign graphics with simple messenging.  The more recent expansion of their work beyond tackling prejudice rumours to tackling Covid rumours has however required a different more urgent approach where myth-busting with an emphasis on facts as been more appropriate and effective. 

The final part of the seminar focused on how to target and work with young people. Gerardo Gomez, consultant at Anti-Rumours Global described a recent initiative to create an educational anti-rumour game for Spanish schools and youth projects based on the concept of an Escape Room experience. This game has grown out of long-term work building up a national Spanish network of young people involved in anti-rumour campaigning. These young people who came up with the initial concept have been supported by experts to develop and implement Escape Rumours meaning that the product has been created by it’s target group. The fact that the game is for young people by young people has been fundamental to it’s success, relevance and attractiveness. The game is a hybrid of digital and in person collaborative exercises for 14-18 year olds. It includes various stages or challenges with the final stage leading to the creation of anti-rumour actions. 

In conclusion, the seminar highlighted some key learning points in terms of tackling discrimination through campaigns:

--The focus should be on promoting critical thinking skills and positive narratives rather than myth busting. 

-Know and map your audience and develop multiple channels and modes of communication

-Participation throughout all stages of campaign development and implementation is essential to building common values or a shared movement.

-Create the conditions whereby target group members can initiate ideas and develop their own processes and campaign products.


Further info:

To find out more about Escape Rumours, email Gerardo Gomez at

For more information on the campaign in Bradford go to 

Or email Matt Henderson on 

Jannes Vahl can be contacted via