Conspiracy Theories Spread Worldwide. What Can Be Done?

With the advent of social media, conspiracy theories spread like wild-fire. I’m generally not one to believe sinister and preposterous conspiracy theories about the New World Order, one-world government, the Illuminati, involving the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, or George Soros. Especially theories tinged with racism and bigotry like economic anti-semitism, nativism, or isolationism.  In my experience and observation, the world is a lot more complex and chaotic, and humans are far more likely to reveal secrets than dark conspiracy theories allow. I tend to believe Occam’s Razor, that the simplest explanation is the likeliest.

Conspiracy theories are prevalent in societies, particularly the Middle East, where there is little transparency:

  • where governments do not require the disclosure of financial connections nor ban conflicts of interest,
  • where officials are not accountable to oversight by legislative branches, or an independent judiciary,
  • where media are not independent of political parties or factions, and/or do not takes seriously their “watchdog” role, or where media become such hyper-partisan advocates of political parties, factions or an ideology that they fabricate or spread half-baked conspiracy theories to try to undermine confidence in the leadership of a political party;
  • where there are no “freedom of information” laws, where the people have no right to know what goes on in public meetings, or behind closed doors where the people’s business is conducted.
  • where elections are not free and the population is not fully nor fairly represented.
  • in authoritarian cultures or subcultures where independent critical thinking skills are not encouraged or developed;
  • where propagandistic or unprofessional, inaccurate, profit-focused media are consumed without skepticism;
  • where leaders are followed blindly or uncritically because they are members of your political party, religion, tribe, race or ethnicity.
  • In cultures where persuasion is no longer valued, where differences between established facts and opinions are blurred and citizens cannot tell the difference.

I had smart students in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates who were strong believers in conspiracy theories. I could not tell them that conspiracy theories were so prevalent in their societies because their governments lacked transparency and accountability.

I also have had smart students in the U.S. who tended to believe conspiracy theories such as those perpetrated by Alex Jones and Infowars. I point them to sites where his ridiculous claims are debunked, and that they must learn to develop critical thinking skills, and advocate for transparency. I’ve also had American students who believed in “Deep State” conspiracy theories. But as James B. Stewart, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of a book on the so-called “deep state” in the US, points out, the US is not Turkey or Egypt where a “deep state” arguably does exist. In the US, there is nothing deep, sinister, or secretive about civil servants in the US trying to thwart politicians who do not follow rules or norms. They are “in your face,” Stewart says. ‘Deep State’: Thorough Debunking of Conspiracy Theories.

All that said, I do believe that certain theories of the future, involving globalization, climate change, technology, and China’s rise, along with the spread of conspiracy theories that undermine the notion of objective and universal truths, are in fact plausible. More.

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