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The polar oceans and global climate — Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. David Coady , University of Tasmania. Wikimedia Commons Ever since the philosopher Sir Karl Popper popularised the expression in the s , conspiracy theories have had a bad reputation. A new Inquisition? Stefano di Giovani, The Burning of a Heretic, circa Wikimedia Commons Outside the psychology and social science literature some authors will sometimes offer some, usually heavily qualified, defence of conspiracy theories in some sense of the term.
Philosophy Conspiracy theories. You might also like John F.
Community Community standards Republishing guidelines Friends of The Conversation Research and Expert Database Analytics Events Our feeds Donate Company Who we are Our charter Our team Our blog Partners and funders Resource for media Contact us Stay informed and subscribe to our free daily newsletter and get the latest analysis and commentary directly in your inbox. Follow us on social media. December 19, New York magazine publishes an explainer on the conspiracy, noting that the QAnon hashtag had been tweeted so many times it had become untrackable.
Who believes in Pizzagate anyway?
March 30, Roseanne Barr tweets support for the QAnon theory that President Trump is a mastermind saving children from pedophiles. Within a day, the post amassed more than 5, retweets and nearly 16, likes. At the most disturbing, you get Pizzagate: the widely debunked theory that a secret society of pedophiles ran a child-trafficking ring out of a DC pizzeria loosely connected to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
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Pizzagate is a good example of a relatively new conspiratogenic process. Speculation inside the Pizzagate echo chamber which got even more echoey after proponents of the theory were kicked off more mainstream platforms like Reddit eventually reached such a pitch that a believer drove across multiple states to fire shots within the pizzeria.
Fortunately no one was injured. But really, the worst is likely yet to come. Establishing what is real and what is fake is only going to get harder. New technology that relies on machine learning can manipulate video and audio to seamlessly simulate interviews and speeches that never occurred. So how do these things actually get started, and how do we stop them?
Take the idea that liberal Jewish billionaire George Soros is actually an evil puppet master bent on selling out the interests of the average American for his own ends. Soros has been cast as the 21st century Elder of Zion. So how does a swath of the internet find that credible? It starts with the actual puppet masters: propagandists. But really, the mythos of Soros the Boogeyman has very little to do with the man himself and everything to do with his supposed agenda: globalism.
Russia wants to keep US influence away from its borders, and white supremacists and other purveyors of America First politics want a way to demonize their opposition. The Beautiful Mind Multiparagraph screeds or very long YouTube videos connect ever-unlikelier dots to come to a scandalous conclusion. Every conspiracy theory needs one of these to refer back to as a kind of digital holy text.
The subjects tend to be pixelated, shot from odd angles, or straight up photoshopped. Example: posts claiming the grieving families of children killed in mass shootings are crisis actors because they look similar to the parents of other slain children.
The Symbologist Of course, all these world-running secret societies need some way to communicate without being caught. Some conspiracy theorists specialize in spotting alleged secret symbols, and then posting guides so fellow sleuths can find the hidden meaning in that gesture, image, or hashtag.
Example: the intense analysis of Jay-Z and Beyonce flashing triangle hand symbols representing the Eye of Providence and their Illuminati membership. The Constant Contrary Comment For every article or post about a major celebrity or organization, political entity or issue, there is bound to be someone down there calling you an idiot sheep blinkered to the harsh reality of your sheeply life. Example: Seriously, just about every comments section.
It just needs fervor. You should be too. This thing is BAD. Creating the illusion of populism, of being a true narrative put forth by everyday people who refuse to be hoodwinked anymore, is where their propaganda power lies. What about folks who are a touch more skeptical?
Well, credulity is context-dependent. And slowly, over the past two decades, for both better and worse, the internet has won people over at the same moment that our collective faith in time-honored institutions is collapsing. Is it so outlandish to think the fluoride in the water supply is actually bad for you when stories about pharmaceutical companies paying doctors to endorse their products or Big Sugar funding organizations that demonize fat come out all the time? The internet also makes it easy to find pseudo-experts to lend credibility to your theory.
But between sketchy online journals willing to publish anything for a fee, sketchy professors willing to sound off on topics well outside their expertise for a fee, and the corporations and interest groups willing to pay them, it is very, very easy to get fooled. That process has been recycled and reconfigured for hundreds of years, and probably millennia.
Trying to stop people from making up stories to support their own agendas by flagging problematic social media posts would be like trying to halt the tides with a well-placed sand castle.
Urban Dictionary: Conspiracy Theorist
Because running underneath the success of all of this is a social ill that long, long predates the internet: prejudice. For all the cranks shrieking about bread and circuses , widespread conspiratorial thinking actually threatens to become not just a means of winning political office, but also a way to govern through real misdirection of public attention. Many conspiracy theories fall into the self-refuting idea fallacy.
Some commentary:. It can be as small as two petty thugs conspiring to stick up a liquor store, or as big as a group of revolutionaries conspiring to take over their country's government. In fact as the cases of Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair illustrate, small groups of powerful individuals do occasionally seek to affect the course of history, and with some non-trivial degree of success.
Moreover, the available, competing explanations—both official and otherwise—occasionally represent dueling conspiracy theories, as we will see in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing Conspiracy theory is a condensation of all of the above, a metaconcept signifying the struggles of the meaning of the category.
We need to recognize that we are on the bridge when we use the term.
One such effort is to call a plausible conspiracy theory a theory of conspiracy  while another is to separate the broad concept of conspiracy theory into the broad categories of warranted and unwarranted. Warranted conspiracy theories tend to be small in scope requiring only a small group or be reasonably easy to cover up. A crucial litmus test is whether any of those who must have been involved or in the know has ever leaked information. It is a repeatable feature of bogus conspiracy theories that they involve very large numbers of people, not one of whom has ever betrayed the conspiracy.
Watergate , the classic conspiracy, was busted in part because of Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, who was a former confidant of J. Edgar Hoover. The more people who are or must be in the know, the less likely it is that the conspiracy will remain secret, and the more certain it becomes that the absence of any leak is indicative that the conspiracy does not exist.
In his book Culture of Conspiracy , Michael Barkun  a political scientist specializing in conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs defines three types of conspiracy theories:. The Unified conspiracy theory, popular among crank-magnetism types , posits that reality is controlled by a single evil entity that has it in for them. It can be a political entity, like "The Illuminati ", or a metaphysical entity, like Say-tan Satan , but this entity is responsible for the creation and management of everything bad.
Michael Barkun coined the term "superconspiracy" to refer the idea that the world is controlled by an interlocking hierarchy of conspiracies. Similarly, Michael Kelly, a neoconservative journalist , coined the term "fusion paranoia" in to refer to the blending of conspiracy theories of the left with those of the right into a unified conspiratorial worldview.
Also similarly, James McConnachie and Robin Tudge [note 1] have coined the term mega-conspiracy theory to refer to conspiracy theories that do not refer to specific events but are amalgamations of other conspiracy theories or that involve some demonized group that allegedly has a master plan for controlling the world.
Despite the mental hurdles such a theory would require one to jump, it's one of the most common theories out there [note 2] and are usually religious in nature. One reason for this could be that, when you find your faith dwindling due to the mountain of of scientific evidence against spirituality, vehemently proclaiming that the major scientific entities of the world which are responsible for said discoveries are all the product of Satan is a great way to not only regain, but also to reinforce your faith.
When facts appear to be threatening one's favorite conspiracy theory, creating a superconspiracy can be very useful as a way of dismissing them as 'part of the cover-up'. It's also worth noting that conspiracies rely on secrecy among the conspirators, so the more people in on the conspiracy the more unlikely that it actually exists. It is like the converse of the Benjamin Franklin maxim, "Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead. We don't count on being able to "convert" conspiracy theorists. However, we have some very basic read: kindergarden-level questions which any self-respecting conspiracy theorist should really take the time to reflect on.
These include:. For instance, the Nazis pulling off the Reichstag fire only required a handful of men and minimal amount of money, while something like faking the Moon landing would require tens of thousands of co-conspirators and untold sums of money to pull off; the rock samples alone might require a decade to forge. This is not to say that a massively large project cannot remain secret: the Manhattan Project created a whole multimillion-dollar industrial infrastructure and managed to remain outside of the public eye basically until the people running it decided to go public in the most explosive way imaginable.
But even that required massive resources to keep secret, was amenable to the kind of compartmentalization that makes keeping large things secret comparatively easy even if you are running a factory with thousands of employees, if they aren't told why they're doing what they're doing, then they can't spill all that much , and in the end wasn't even secret to the people it needed most to be kept secret from i.
The Soviets were aware of this, as it happens, and at about the same time their own publications in the field started not to be published in accessible journals — a sign that they knew. Again, the Nazis used the Reichstag fire to scapegoat the communists , it is considered an important factor in their rise to power, and it is hard to imagine that there was an easier way to do it. Conversely, while faking the Moon landing might have been a way to have something to show for the Apollo project, the simpler solution would have been to actually land on the Moon. Also, Richard Nixon is dead, and no one in power has any reason to care about making sure everyone thinks we went to the Moon while he was president.
It should be noted that with government-based conspiracy theories one can have issues with the fact there are things about WWI , years ago, that are still classified and therefore unknown to the general public, nullifying these types of questions even with a skeptic — however, these involve what might be termed "rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty" and usually there is significant supporting evidence from other sources. Does belief in this theory require accepting inherently contradictory premises that the conspiring entities are incredibly competent, bone stupid, organized, clever, and hopelessly incompetent — all at the same time?
A notorious example: chemtrails. If the U. So this theory would require believing in an entity the U. Other examples are "secrets" simultaneously well- and carefully-kept by extremely powerful and aggressive entities, and known to one or especially more " bozos on the bus ", who know all about it and talk about them openly on the Web and in real life.
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Apart from chemtrails a common example is the highly organized and thoroughly secret system of concentration camps operated by FEMA , an agency famous for its amazingly chaotic, clumsy, and ineffective handling of rescue and recovery after Katrina. Alternatively, use any other intensely secret program that could be easily discovered and verified by anyone with a common piece of scientific equipment or Google. Denial is strongly linked with conspiracies in two senses.
In one, the conspiracy theorist is in denial of the "official story," which is more often than not the one supported by facts. However, in the second sense, anyone denying the existence of a conspiracy inadvertently proves that it must exist. Denial of on-going conspiracies can be taken as proof that said employees are "in on" whatever conspiracy they are busily denying.
Usually, the more they deny, the more conspiracy theorists will take it as proof — because, well, "they would say that, wouldn't they! Furthermore, if people do not deny the theory, this can also be taken as proof on the grounds that "it has never been denied.
That this entire line of reasoning is circular hardly needs pointing out. A conspiracy theory becomes a total crackpot conspiracy theory when all evidence that might disprove the theory instead becomes co-opted as proof of the "cover-up" of said theory; requiring loyalty, resources, and competence on the part of the conspirators far in excess of what any actual conspiracy can muster. People such as the Black Panthers and Abbie Hoffman suspected that the FBI had a covert program dedicated to tracking, discrediting and destroying them; however, they were largely written off as paranoid radicals finding a way to blame the man for their failures.
All sane people knew J. Edgar Hoover would never do anything such as these freaks were claiming!