The Anti-Rumour Strategy

11 01 18
  • Name: Anti-Rumour Strategy
  • Mission:  Promote living together in diversity and reduce toxic narratives that distort local realities.
  • Size: Cities > 15
  • Location: Started in Barcelona
  • Key personnel: Director of the Anti-Rumour project & Intercultural Cities Programme – Daniel de Torres


The Anti-Rumour strategy, which includes media campaigns, workplace awareness, pop-up workshops and street theatre, has developed in more than 15 cities across Europe to combat prejudices, including anti-Muslim hatred. The project aims to get all the local actors together to tackle divisive messages effectively.


“When asked what prevented positive interaction between people living in Barcelona, prejudice was mentioned more often than even speaking the same language or the state of the economy,” says Daniel De Torres, head of the Anti-Rumour project and expert on diversity and interculturalism.

Over the last few years, Spain has battled with a financial crash and an influx of both migrants and refugees as well as several political corruption sandals.

But when the municipality of Barcelona asked citizens what barriers existed which prevented positive interaction and dialogue between people, the recurring answer was prejudice and stereotypes.

The Anti-Rumour project began in 2010 as a part of Barcelona’s intercultural plan for the following decade. Its success in promoting conversations and reducing hate led to it being rolled out through other Spanish cities. The Council of Europe eventually funded the Anti-Rumour strategy in 10 European cities across six countries, from Germany and Portugal to Poland and Sweden.

Daniel de Torres, who worked as commissioner for integration and dialogue when the strategy began in Barcelona, has followed the Anti-Rumour project through the last seven years. He is now director of the Spanish Network of Intercultural Cities which is linked to the European Network of Intercultural Cities and is building up the Anti-Rumour project to adapt it to different cities and context.


“I was a bit tired with the approach of many anti-discrimination organisations, because their campaigns usually only managed to engage the same people again and again – they didn’t really challenge the majority of the population,” says Daniel.

Barcelona’s municipality first designed the Anti-Rumour project to reduce the prejudices that prevented positive interactions between people. The project had three main goals:

  1.     To put prejudice and stereotypes on the political and education agenda
  2.     To engage a variety of actors from businesses to cultural institutions – not just NGOs
  3.     To use scientific rigour in testing innovative ways to reduce prejudice and challenge stereotypes.

The aim from the start was to target people like his mother, Daniel says: the general population that don’t vote for extreme right-wing parties and don’t consider themselves racist or Islamophobic, but nevertheless still spread general stereotypes or don’t mix with certain minorities.

“The approach with my mother cannot be me teaching her about what is right and what is wrong, saying ‘you are not aware but you’re racist and I’m telling you the truth because I’m morally superior’,” says Daniel.

Daniel, who originally launched the project when he worked for the Barcelona municipality, soon realised that if they talked about rumours rather than racism or prejudice, people were much more easily engaged and accepted they could be propagating stereotypes and be doing harm. Many did not relate or pay attention to anti-racism messages because they did not believe themselves to be racist.

“We came from the angle that we all have prejudices, so let’s try to promote critical thinking and reflection without pretending that the majority of people are ignorant or racist or Islamophobic and that we are not,” he adds.

The project was also a means to start a conversation and explore racism, Islamophobia and other types of discrimination that could prevent coexistence.

Daniel was aware data and facts would not work in reducing people’s prejudice but the Anti-Rumour team still identified that the main rumours in the city were about diversity, migrants and religious minorities.

They investigated how much truth there was to each perception and stereotype, as well as how much impact the rumour had on coexistence.

Daniel says that if politicians don’t adapt policies and budgets to the reality, it is harder to dismantle prejudice, as they are facilitating an atmosphere where rumours can take purchase.

The first step to the Anti-Rumour project was getting all the potential actors involved from inception and providing them with training workshops.

“The first thing to do is to change the people on the inside before you can change something on the outside,” says Daniel.

This included journalists, officials from different departments in the municipality, teachers, cultural institutions, sport clubs, local police forces and politicians. The aim was to identify people who could expand the Anti-Rumour strategy to different fields and not just interact with ‘the usual suspects’ when it came to combating Islamophobia and other types of discrimination.

“So a theatre director will come to the training, and will say ‘wow, I get this now, I like this approach, I’m going to make this topic the main theme for this year’s children’s play and invite the parents to see their kids perform around this theme’,” says Daniel.

While communication was not the main goal of the Anti-Rumour project, the team has used local artists, videos, handbooks and powerpoints to disseminate its message.

They also train Anti-Rumour agents to face prejudice, have difficult conversations around prejudice and interact with those who believe in stereotypes.

Over the last few years, Daniel’s role has expanded to helping cities across Europe to set up Anti-Rumour strategies of their own, providing advice and helping to get politicians on board to continue funding the project.

Todas las personas tenemos prejuicios y todas podemos y debemos contribuir a reducirlos. Desde que en el 2010 Dani de Torres y su equipo impulsaron la “estrategia antirumores” en Barcelona, se ha adaptado en más de 25 ciudades de varios países del mundo con el apoyo del Consejo de Europa. Facebook ha colaborado con Antirumours Global para producir esta campaña “Sin diversidad no hay vida” y que es el resultado de un Hack for Good, con el objetivo de reflexionar sobre los prejuicios en nuestra sociedad y para que demos un paso activo para su eliminación. Don’t rumour, be open! y disfrutemos de la diversidad

Posted by Antirumours global on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“It’s about making the project a cool thing so people are not doing it because the city is full of racists but so it becomes a pioneer in Europe, promoting great values,” says Daniel.

“Suddenly they realise this is something bigger, more inclusive and welcome. This is a city thing, bigger than any municipality, bigger than any NGO, bigger than any school.”

One of the first steps for any city starting an Anti-Rumour project is to get all the different actors involved in creating an Anti-Rumour logo and slogan for the city, says Daniel.

The campaigns are often targeted at specific sectors of the general population. The team identifies the main actors that the target group interacts with, and the areas that need to be targeted, whether these are cultural institutions, schools or libraries, and prepare different activities and interventions of different intensities.

“You can’t just spent thousands of euros doing events in the square for community neighbours going there. It’s about going to the places people are already going to,” says Daniel.


One of the main difficulties encountered by the Anti-Rumour team as the strategy spread across cities was the reaction of other NGOs.

Some organisations saw the Anti-Rumour approach as too soft and dismissing the negative impact of discrimination. Their criticism was based on the Anti-Rumour strategy not being hard enough on haters and racists.

But Daniel says the Anti-Rumour strategy was never aimed at hard-core right-wing parties that strongly promoted discriminative discourse and prejudice. Instead, it targeted the general majority, focusing on prevention rather than attacks.

Daniel de Torres

“We focus on how prejudice starts and how education, the media, government policies, all have an amazing responsibility not only to prevent racists gaining ground but to contribute to anti-discrimination on a basic level,” says Daniel.

The Anti-Rumour team faced another difficulty when the project expanded and some members inadvertently reinforced stereotypes while trying to counter them.  

Some cities focused too heavily on the data, and may end up consolidating rumours rather than erasing them. If the emphasis remains on communicating the rumours and the truth about them, people often only remember the rumours, says Daniel.

Other cities contracted the research out to identify rumours without doing any of the work themselves, simply posting the results on their website.

Many cities focused too much on the communication dimension and disseminating the rumours and the data by social media, video and leaflets. “But we know the impact is very low and the negative consequences very high,” says Daniel.

The approach to the Anti-Rumour strategy in schools can be very effective but the results depend on the methodology and how topics are dealt with. Schools that only create one anti-Muslim hatred day, for example, are unlikely to create a sustained impact on Islamophobia.  

Daniel has written the Antirumours handbook to allow cities to learn from each others’ mistakes and sets out a comprehensive Anti-Rumours strategy.

When the Council of Europe funded Anti-Rumour strategies in different cities, two external assessors evaluated its impact. It involved typical interviews, questionnaires and focus groups before and after.

While the evaluation was positive, with a change in terms of critical thinking being identified, Daniel is working on finding a more efficient way of measuring impact. He aims to avoid the superficiality of single activities and campaigns to focus on the long-term impact and the people who can change the ‘structure’ of a city.  

Finally, Daniel stresses that municipalities that may first introduce the strategy must learn to accept losing control to a certain extent, even if that can be hard for them. Indirect impact grows as more people get involved.

“This is about sharing experiences so they all benefit. I want to fight against the little project mentality, ‘this is my project, I don’t want to share’. The philosophy of the project is more of a collective thing,” says Daniel.

Moving forwards

Some cities have already begun to share experiences and learn from one another’s mistakes. Municipalities are keeping track of progress through messages they receive from those impacted by the strategy.

“We started getting messages from nurses and doctors in hospitals, from teachers in schools, from people in the housing department. They said, ‘it’s the first time we received some useful tools to combat these rumours and prejudices – we knew they were not true but we didn’t have the capacity, the tools or the relevant knowledge to combat it effectively’,” Daniel says.

Proof that the project has really become a city-wide success instead of an isolated project is that it remains in place even through different government administrations. In Barcelona, there have been two changes in government since the project began and it is still being funded and expanding.

“The approach has been very effective at getting many different actors involved even at different government levels. It isn’t just to dismantle the rumours but to put the topic on the table,” says Daniel.

The media has always been an essential part of the Anti-Rumour strategy and Daniel says even he was surprised by how interested they were in the project when it initially started. Even right-wing media groups paid attention and found the project’s approach innovative and creative, according to Daniel.

Aside from advising Anti-Rumour teams in different cities,  Daniel has decided to focus on building up the Anti-Rumour strategy and adapting it to different contexts.

The city of Montreal in Canada has already begun an Anti-Rumour project and Daniel wants to adapt it to other countries but also on other topics than discrimination and discrimination against minorities.

He believes it should be possible to create an Anti-Rumour strategy for a company or a school even if a whole city hasn’t adopted the scheme.

“It’s a mix of getting attention, having superficial impact but also focusing on the long term and more innovative approach,” says Daniel.


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