Why So Many People Believe in Conspiracy Theories, Fake News, and Misinformation and How to Fight it
The news today is all about fake news. Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring from a pizza shop in Washington. Jay-Z and Kanye West are a part of a devil cult created to normalize satanic rituals. Donald Trump will be the next president of the US. No wait, that last one’s true. Holy shit.
This is the state of modern-day journalism. When the top 20 fake news stories outperformed real news at the end of the 2016 campaign, when a gunman runs into a pizza shop thinking he’s taking down a sex cult directly tied to the Democratic presidential candidate, the next president of the US is a mildly incestuous potato man with conflicts of interest that could fill up a phone book.
But let’s talk about why conspiracy theories and misinformation spread like cyber wildfire:
Public distrust in government is at an all time high and continues to go up.
No one fucking trusts the government to do the right thing anymore. Back in 1958, 77% of Americans said they trusted the government. In 2015, this number has dropped to 19%.
Now this figure shifts significantly after pivotal events like 9/11 but is still an important barometer - it means something that today only 1 out of 5 Americans say they trust the government.
That figure shouldn’t be surprising to viewers like you who get their news from independent media outlets.
Which is a great segue to my second point and that is…
Public trust in institutionalized media is at an all time low.
Fareed Zakaria links this to the death of authority in our uber-democratized institutions. The more media becomes accessible and under attack, the more we see it as a vulnerable institution rather than the impenetrable bastion of truth it once was. This idea, however true, is incomplete. Trading access for favorable coverage, collusion between mainstream media outlets and institutions like the DNC, the lack of criticism directed at the establishment and the gross lack of coverage for “outsider” candidates like Bernie Sanders all combine to demonstrate why the mainstream media has fallen from grace.
Turning a blind eye to political misbehavior is inexcusable. And the internet has done a great job of fighting against it.
But most importantly, the internet.
In the West, for centuries information was a commodity tightly controlled by the powerful - political rulers, the clergy and the like. Eventually, with the advent of inexpensive printing technology, newspapers became an effective means of disseminating information. Then radio stations came along, then television, and now, the Internet. With each new door opening up thousands more outlets emerge to spread information and thousands more publications go unchecked. In an effort to counter the misinformation, outlets like Politifact and Snopes have entered the fray to do battle in the marketplace of ideas.
There’s amazing journalism being conducted each day still but real news has to compete on an even playing field with a mountain of bullshit clickbait. And it’s tempting to share the information because in our hyperpartisan feedback loops we want to show all our friends and family that Shillary is in fact a LIZARD PERSON WHO WANTS TO SELL YOUR FETUSES.
And I’m not telling you that misinformation was the reason Trump won. There was more to it than that. But misinformation, and fake news stories, will become an even bigger problem if we don’t educate ourselves. So the next time your hometown friend shares an article showing that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump, don’t punch them in the face. Send them to this article instead *Shameless self-promotion*
What you need to realize about conspiracy outlets:
We all experience events where we feel powerless or try to make sense of the unknown. That’s basically the foundation of religion. But in an effort to do so, we can’t abandon logic, reason and a willingness to entertain new evidence. For example, you look around and feel like the Earth is flat, that makes sense, I get it, it LOOKS flat. But if you insist on clinging to that belief, you have to ignore the reality that ships sailing away DO NOT fall off the side of the planet.
And even a broken clock rings true twice a day. But that doesn’t mean you use that clock for anything. You throw that fucking clock out. This is a big part of the problem with conspiracy theorists. While Alex Jones was certainly right about widespread government surveillance since the 90s, that doesn’t mean he’s right about the 99% of bullshit like the Clintons’ sex trafficking ring or that lizard people want to bring about a globalist new world order.
Let’s not forget, mainstream media itself is not guiltless - remember the bullshit Whitewater investigations of the ‘90s? Or the lack of coverage around movements like Black Lives Matter? Or the fucking Iraqi WMDs? The point is that fake news is here, and it’s all around us. That’s why it’s incumbent on us, as citizens, to question what we read, do more than just click “share” to whatever story comes across our Facebook feed that confirms our particular bias, and then push back against bullshit that appears in the news media, even alternative media sources like this one.
I bet you’re already composing what you’re going to say to criticize me in the comments section below this very article. Good for you! But please, stick to the facts and leave my fucking hair out of it.