It’s safe to say it’s been a big year for conspiracy theories.
Everything from President Trump’s secret war against a ‘deep state’, to the endless stream of COVID theories. Is COVID a hoax? Is COVID a weapon? Is COVID caused by 5G somehow? Is 5G Safe? Even flat earthers have been back in the headlines.
But, what actually makes people believe in these kinds of conspiracy theories? Also, how do you protect yourself from falling for them and how do you talk to family or friends who are conspiracy theorists?
It’s important to understand that real conspiracies do exist.
There was the Volkswagen scandal of 2015. The car company cheated environmental regulations, which ended up costing them billions of dollars when it was uncovered. Another example is the US Government’s National Security Agency exposure for illegally spying on Americans in 2013.
The difference between real conspiracies and something like the COVID 5G theory or the moon landing being faked, is that real conspiracies are exposed by solid, credible, proven evidence. And they’re usually exposed by journalists, whistleblowers or government investigations. Whereas, fringe conspiracy theorists often tend to ignore experts and credible evidence.
So, what is it that makes people believe these kinds of conspiracy theories and ignore any evidence disproving them? There are a couple of different reasons.
The first is pretty straightforward, convenience. If you choose to believe COVID isn’t real. You can continue to live life normally & don’t have to worry about things like wearing a mask or making sure your actions don’t put anyone else at risk.
But what about the people who are more extreme in their beliefs that buy into theories that don’t really make their lives any easier? When people feel scared, confused or like they’re not in control of their own lives conspiracy theories can actually make them feel safe and even empowered.
The idea of a global pandemic, that’s fast spreading, invisible, and affects people pretty randomly, can be scary.
If you believe COVID’s caused by 5G you now have someone or something you can blame and you know how to stop it.
Conspiracy Theories can also help people make sense of things they don’t understand.
For example, it’s easier to think we just pretended to land on the moon than it is to try to understand how we managed to get a big hunk of metal to travel hundreds of thousands of kays into space run by computers about as powerful as a pocket calculator.
Trying to wrap your head around that can be mind boggling and make you feel dumb. The other option is simple, easy to understand and as a bonus it can actually make you feel smarter than everyone else because you’re part of a small group that knows the truth and hasn’t been tricked by a fake story.
While some conspiracy theories may seem harmless they can actually cause serious problems. They erode people’s trust in institutions and experts and can even lead to violence.
What makes things worse is that the internet has made it a lot easier to make, find and spread conspiracy theories and misinformation.
So, how can you protect yourself from being suckered into conspiracy theories? It helps to look at the world in the same way that most scientists do. For one thing get used to the fact that you don’t know everything and you’re going to be wrong about things; and that’s ok.
People have a natural instinct to try to protect ourselves from that negative feeling by convincing ourselves that we’re not the ones that are wrong.
Take a step back, weigh up the evidence, listen to experts and try to think logically about it.
There’s a well known principle called Occam’s razor, which is basically that the simplest answer is usually the right one. Also, people are really bad at keeping secrets…
So just try to think about all of the people that would need to keep quiet for a conspiracy theory to be true.
Now, what can you do to help friends or family who may be deep into a particular conspiracy theory? We asked the experts:
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