Sunday, January 04, 2015

Does social media help conspiracy theories to flourish?

There have always been conspiracy theories. In living memory, the assassination of President John F Kennedy and the moon landings have filled millions of column inches.

In recent years, there seem to be more and more conspiracy theories (and what's worse, more gullible souls who believe them).  I was at a dinner party recently when the topic of conspiracies arose. To my astonishment, more than half of the people there agreed that "the moon landings were faked", and three people were adamant that the 9/11 attacks were "orchestrated by the CIA".

Notwithstanding the fact that I need to be more discerning about accepting dinner party invites, the "evidence" that was quoted was YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and Twitter tweets. Hardly the sort of stuff to stand up in court, but obviously sufficient to convince some people.

So here's my take on conspiracy theories. It's hard for each of us to keep a secret. It's harder if three or four people know. It becomes increasingly difficult if thousands of people are sworn to secrecy, to the point that it becomes impossible. What seems to happen is that half-baked theories based on grainy videos are posted and discussed online. Reason and logic, not to mention powers of common sense, seem to leave some people who add to the debates. Before you know it, large numbers of people are believing the impossible.

Here are a few things as a reminder:
  • Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, and so did a number of fellow astronauts
  • No-one has ever been abducted by aliens
  • Vapour trails from planes are just trails of vapour
  • The 9/11 attacks were a terrorist incident
  • There is no secret world government run by the Bilderberg group, the Illuminati or even shape-changing lizards
Everything is fine. Don't worry about it.

Image credit - Creative Commons license

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