When You Do Not Know Who or What to Believe
Once upon a time you had to work hard to discover conspiracy theories—find and check out books from the library or look up old newspaper clips. Today, conspiracy theories are an instant Google search away. In today’s world conspiracy theories will even find you through microtargeting, recommendation engines, or even your third cousin on Facebook.
Here is the thing, conspiracies are not new. How about Area 51 where people believe that the military is conducting experiments on aliens and their spacecraft? There are theories around who really killed President Kennedy. Do not forget Big Foot and the many sightings. Did you know that there is an Elvis Presley Sighting Society? The beloved “People’s Princess” Diana, a tragic accident caused by a drunk driver, right? There are 175 theories that point to a conspiracy. The terrorist attacks on 9/11? Conspiracy theories say it was an inside job. There are even conspiracy theories around Jesus that attempt to disprove the very foundation of Christianity.
If it is on the internet, it must be true? The nature of the online world is baked into its name. It is a tangled web of conflicting stories and arguments. Shaking out information on the internet does not result in tidy piles of content. Instead you have some real, some fake, some human, some automated, some sincere, some trolling, and some opportunistic.
Turns out conspiracy theories are thought to be a defense mechanism. As humans, we tend to be suspicious and afraid of things that cannot be explained. Though you might think of yourself as smarter than your aunt on Facebook, and while there is evidence that education combats belief in conspiracy theories, the truth is that none of us are perfectly immune to them. We are much more influenced by conspiracy theories than we realize. Social distancing has also made conspiracy theories more appealing. We are seeing images of sick people, empty shelves, ventilators, and it is traumatizing. Without our normal social activities and real-life community, social media is especially engaging. It willingly and abundantly offers up conspiracy explanations to seemingly “comfort” us but often only worsens our anxiety.
The best conspiracies contain key elements. They always contain a kernel of truth. There is something verifiable in all of them. There is always a “they”. This dangerous other that is covering up big secrets. Conspiracy theories all carry a common message: The only protection comes from possessing the secret truths that “they” do not want you to hear. The belief that we have access to secret information perhaps makes us feel that we have an advantage or are somewhat safer.
Conspiracy theories seem to thrive in polarizing political climates. It can get in the way of us seeing reality for what it is. Of course, nobody sees reality exactly the way it is—we all have prejudices and biases. Conspiracy does not create divides between people, it widens them.
I just love this song by my brother and my nephews. It’s a great reminder that we can give it all to God. The conspiracies, the politics, the pandemics, all the things that are too heavy for us to carry day in and day out. Hope you enjoy!