Conspiratorial thinking continues to gain traction in the U.S. amid the pandemic and a fraught political and social climate, as social media makes it easier than ever to disseminate bizarre theories with real-world consequences.
Fueled by uncertainty and anxiety, the health crisis creates the perfect back drop for the spread of misinformation and has real-world consequences. Some theories suggest COVID-19 was a planned biological weapon.
Others claim the pandemic is a hoax, possibly as a facade to create an intrusive surveillance state. A viral film about the pandemic boasts millions of views even though its been widely discredited.
Layered on top of pandemic-related conspiracies are those related to ongoing racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd. As thousands across the country rally against violence perpetrated by police on people of color, conspiracism continue to spread about outside actors infiltrating protests with the intention of creating mayhem and destruction.
Paranoia and rumors regarding the existance and intentions of these radical leftists, labelled "Antifa," spurred armed militia members to show up to protests. Conservative leaders and even the President himself have propogated these conspiracies and others such as the existance of a "deep state," birtherism and "Obamagate."
Why are Americans susceptible to conspiracy theories and are certain people more at risk? How have hyper-partisan politics influenced the spread of bizarre theories and the rising popularity of groups like QAnon?
Why do public health crises and civil unrest prompt paranoia and distrust? How can conspiracism lead to negative health outcomes?
What are the traits of conspiratorial thinking? How can you better identify conspiracies online and keep them from spreading? What else can be done to counter dangerous misinformation?
- Anna Merlan, senior staff writer at Vice and author of "Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power"
- Adrienne LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic and writer of the magazine's "Shadowland" series cover story
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*This interview was recorded on Monday, June 22.
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