The Flat Earth conspiracy has infamously gained traction over the last few years. Graphic by Conner Maggio

Conspiracy theory renaissance linked to internet culture

Online forums allow global interaction between large numbers of individuals, but also enable the spread of gross information.

Throughout the United States and, in some respects, the rest of the world, there has been a growth in conspiratorial beliefs. These beliefs range from the Earth being flat to new political conspiracies, such as Q-Anon. For those unaware, Q-Anon supporters believe that there is a secret member of the current administration who leaves hints, commonly referred to as crumbs, on how the president will take on political figures who Q and his supporters believe are evil.

While conspiracy theories have always been around, their growth can be seen not only on the Internet but in real life as well. For example, at President Trump’s recent campaign rally on July 31, participants came adorned in Q T-shirts to show their support for this theory. Additionally, according to a Gallup poll in 2013, 61 percent of Americans polled believe the second gunman theory of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I believe this growth in conspiracy theories is primarily due to the rise of the Internet and vast communication allowing believers to easily reach each other.

The growth of communication is a double-edged sword in that it promotes and provides opportunity for interaction between many differing groups, yet it also allows previously frightened theorists the opportunity to meet similarly-minded individuals who reinforce their misguided beliefs. This reinforcement eventually erodes the truth as the belief eclipses the truth in the public mindset. At this point, it does not matter what the truth actually is, only what people want to believe.

The major reason behind the growth of conspiracy theories is the rise of alternative forms, and a common distrust of traditional sources, of media. According to a 2018 Gallup Survey of over 18,000 Americans, 43 percent had a negative view of the media versus 33 percent who had a positive view. Due to this distrust in alleged mainstream media, new forms of media have arisen. One can easily find a point of view that fits their own rather than being challenged by opposing viewpoints. Access to different forms of media have continually advanced throughout the years, especially in the introduction of the Internet. For example, from the 1950s to the 1990s, there existed only three main television networks in the United States: ABC, NBC and CBS. Today, there are more than 50 national broadcasting networks. While national TV broadcasting is not the usual source of conspiratorial thought, it is a sign of the massive growth in the different available forms of media.

While there is some relevance to the growth of different forms of traditional media, the key source of new conspiratorial thought is the everyday individuals on various Internet platforms. Social media websites, such as Facebook, Reddit and YouTube, give individuals the ability to discuss and be influenced by their peers all over the globe. For example, the group titled “Great Awakening,” which focuses on the Q conspiracy, has over 68,000 subscribers on Reddit. Through this new form of access, random conspiracy theorists who were previously separated across the United States are now able to communicate and spread their beliefs.

Conspiracy theories are rising because they provide a strict definition of the “other” or the enemy. They explain the confusing elements of life. In a discussion with U.S. Today about the subject, Jan Willem van Prooijen, an associate professor at the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at VU University in Amsterdam, stated that people “need to blame the anxiety they feel on different groups and the result is frequently conspiracy theories,” adding, “People don’t like it when things are really random. Randomness is more threatening than having an enemy. You can prepare for an enemy, you can’t prepare for coincidences.” Due to the unstable nature of the modern age, it is nice to believe a simple concept that one can easily share with one’s peers.

The rise of conspiracy theories is due to the growth of the Internet and its new sub-communities. People tend to believe those who validate their own thoughts and fears. When going forward into the future, modern societies must be careful to distinguish between fact and fiction or they will lose the truth. The hunt for truth is difficult, but it is a trial that a new digital society must face.

Post Author: Nathan Hinkle