A common problem we are encountering in our ever-connected, socially opinionated online world is the propagation of conspiracy theories. Just spend a few minutes scrolling your FB feed and I’m sure you’ll see several posts which might make you question the meaning behind everything.
Is the Coronavirus an over-inflated hoax designed to take down the American economy? Is Bill Gates going to implant all of us with microchips in the guise of a vaccine cure? Are the Democrats using the virus to try to take down Donald Trump?
And the list of questionable questions goes on and on.
Undoubtedly, there are some very dark forces working behind the scenes in the world for ill intent. But the vast majority of what you read online about conspiracies theories are simply not true. And if we’re not careful, we can get caught up and swept away in illogical thinking which will only exacerbate our already elevated stress levels and maybe even cause us to panic.
I’d like to give you a few tips to help with conspiracy theory thinking.
#1. Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.
Have you ever played that game as a kid, where one person whispers a phrase to another person, and that person whispers to the next, and down the line it goes? And then last person speaks the phrase out loud, which causes everyone to laugh, because it’s nowhere remotely close to what was originally said? Conspiracy theories are very much the same way – and adults still play this game today. Initially, there may be an element of truth to the theory, but over time, as more and more people add their two cents to the story, it becomes inflated, exaggerated, and very much untrue. When we see a conspiracy theory online, we must remember that the opinions of hundreds or maybe thousands of people have been interjected into the story and it has most likely evolved into a huge exaggeration and quite possibly, a complete untruth. That’s why we should believe nothing of what we hear and only half of what we see.
#2. Know the difference between conspiracy theory facts and conspiracy theory fantasy.
It’s easier for me to believe that Jeffery Epstein was murdered instead of committing suicide, than to believe that the earth is flat. Why is that? Because there are certain public, well-documented facts about the Epstein case that certainly don’t add up. But if you look at many conspiracy theories on the internet, you’ll find that the vast majority of them aren’t backed up with solid proof at all. Take the Flat Earth conspiracy for example. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who believe that the Earth is flat, due to misinformation on the internet. For some reason, they have all been persuaded to completely ignore hundreds of years of scientific evidence that the Earth is round. Even thousands of satellite pictures, taken from space, can’t convince them otherwise. When you think logically about this scale of conspiracy, it’s hard to believe how anyone could actually believe it. Maybe NASA could be lying and manipulating earth pictures? But what about the eight other countries who have also made it into space? What about the dozen-plus private space agencies who have launched satellites into orbit? There are tens of thousands of people working on these massive satellite projects. Wouldn’t somebody have leaked a picture of a square earth from space?
The Coronovirus conspiracies are no different. The massive undertaking of keeping some of these conspiracies a secret is simply impossible. There are too many moving parts, too many people with secrets, to believe that someone wouldn’t leak pivotal information to prove that all of this Corona craziness is a conspiracy. Some conspiracies are just too big to be anything but fantasy.
#3 What does it matter? And what can I do?
Another popular conspiracy theory that many people believe is that our government is spying on us through our smart home devices. I think it’s pretty well documented that advertisers have, in fact, been listening, at times, to our conversations for use in targeted ads. And yes, hackers, also can probably tune in, if they really want to listen.
Obviously, I’d rather not have anyone listening to my private conversations. But if I’m not saying anything incriminating, does it really matter? If the government really wants to listen in on me and my kids watching Netflix, what can I do?
Many people unplug their smart devices out of fear of eavesdropping. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. But stressing out about a potential hacker, or government agency, listening through your Amazon or Google product can lead to paranoia at worst, or low-level stress, at best.
The same is true for Coronavirus conspiracies. Even if Bill Gates wanted to vaccinate us for some New World Order agenda, there’s nothing I can do about until I see clear facts that the government is preparing for mandatory vaccinations. Until I know for a FACT that my Constitutional rights will be violated, I must choose not to respond in fear by believing unfounded conspiracy theories. Until it really matters, evidenced by hard facts, there’s nothing I can or should do.
#4 Confirmation bias is a powerful thing
Humans have a tendency to find supporting evidence for things they want to believe in. This is called confirmation bias. There’s a long-standing conspiracy that The Simpsons TV show is somehow a predictive indicator of the future, mostly because they aired an episode about Donald Trump getting elected as president years before he actually did. As convincing as this may be for some people, the Simpsons has many more failed predictions that people ignore because those predictions don’t confirm their beliefs.
Fast-forward to our Corona epidemic. I saw a video recently someone shared of dozens of tanks being transported across a bridge on a train. Under the video was a caption about impending martial law and hundreds of comments from panicked viewers. But anyone remotely familiar with the military will confirm that movement of assets from one place to another is very routine. Yet because many people are looking for confirmation of their personal belief that the U.S. is about to be governed by martial law, this post appeared valid.
When you see any conspiracy theory, it’s important to ask yourself, “Is this an example of confirmation bias? Could pieces of information be stitched together to craft a narrative that fits a false belief?”
#5 Conspiracy theories instill fear and distract from what’s really important
And finally, perhaps the biggest reason to avoid conspiracy theories is that the fact that they instill fear and distract us from what’s really important. At the root of almost all conspiracy theories is fear and mistrust, which are powerful emotions causing anxiety, depression and stress. I don’t know about you, but I have enough negative emotions going on right now without stressing about “what if’s” Coronavirus conspiracies and other false narratives. I want my extra time to be spent focusing on what’s really important – my children, my relationships, self-improvement, and my relationship with God. The greatest cause I can take up is not a fight against a perceived threat from our government. My greatest cause is being the best dad and friend I can be during a very difficult time when my family and friends need me the most.