Conspiracy Theories

How the Internet Changed Conspiracy Theories

...and other topics from DigBoston's recent interview with me


Today DigBoston published an interview with me about conspiracy theories, pegged to my book The United States of Paranoia. Here's an excerpt:

Word search!

Q: Another theme in your writing is that belief in conspiracy theories isn't limited to modern times, but has been part of American culture for the country's entire history. In your book, you also mention that the internet has allowed conspiracy theories to flourish. Do you think belief in conspiracy theories is more common now than ever before, or do you think there have been more paranoid periods in American history?

A: I don't think the Internet has made conspiratorial thinking more common. But it certainly has had several effects.

First of all, just as the Internet has sped up the news cycle in general, it has sped up the generation and transmission of conspiracy theories.

Second, the Internet has made those theories more public. Some of the historical conspiracy rumors that I write about in the book were not discussed in the press, or at least weren't discussed in any newspapers or magazines that I got my hands on. We know about them because sociologists and folklorists went out, interviewed people, and wrote down the stories people told them. Nowadays, a lot of that person-to-person transmission happens online, where it's easier for outsiders to observe it. This helps create the illusion that conspiracy thinking is more common than before.

And third, because that storytelling happens in a more public space, it's easier for different subcultures' conspiracy stories to mix together. That mixing was certainly known to happen before the Internet, but the Net made it much easier—suddenly hippies and militiamen and black nationalists and so on who might never encounter each other in real life could be reading the same forum and absorbing the other groups' tales.

Other topics covered include what to do when someone calls you a conspiracy theorist, which disreputable conspiracy theories I think might have some truth to them, and my answer to the question, "If you had the chance to direct your own conspiracy-themed movie, what would it be about?" You can read the whole thing here.

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  1. Other topics convered include what to do when someone calls you a conspiracy theorist…

    Find out which agency put them up to it.

    1. Duh, its the one with 3 letters

      1. AAA gets away with everything because they drive under the radar.

  2. So essentially what you’re saying here is that 9/11 really WAS an inside job?

  3. I blame Bush.

    1. And the JOOS.

      1. Well, yeah. That goes without saying.

        1. Wait – which type of juice?

          Apple? Pineapple? Orange? Prune? Other?

          How can they only be juices made from fruits found on bushes and not trees? Is it because bushes can catch fire and talk? Does the fire have to be hot enough to melt metal?
          Where does the grassy knoll fit into all of this?

          This is very confusing.

          1. Bush fried, millions died.

  4. I think Jesse may have now written more words promoting his book than he published in his book.

    1. You know Jesse is working for the Illuminati to suppress knowledge of their influence with this book, right?

      1. Which master does he serve though? Obviously not Cthulhu.

        1. Oh my god! A moment of prescience!

          GILMORE|5.27.15 @ 12:00PM|#|?|filternamelinkcustom

          Duh, its the one with 3 letters

          1. CIA, NSA, JEW, and OMG all have three letters. You should be more specific or are you saying they’re all interrelated.

  5. The internet has sped up the transmission of ideas and made them more public? That is some insight.

    1. Where’d you get that load of shit from? Did you read the post or something?

      Defiler of the Rule That Shall Not Be Spoken.

    2. The internet has sped up the transmission of ideas and made them more public? That is some insight.

      It is sharing such knowledge with readers like yourself that makes my work worthwhile.

      1. I’m a pleasure, aren’t I?

        1. I think it was worth you writing what you wrote just to invoke the response.

          *adds 2 points of horribleness next to straffinrun’s name in Hit&Runmonicon;*

          1. Hey, I’m a mises guy. I don’t know your rules. But I’ll take the horrible.

            1. I write in jest. I do not keep a “Hit&Runmonicon;” book.

              A couple of weeks ago I corrected an author and indicated that I was trying not to be horrible about it.
              One of our fellow commentators told me I was a horrible person anyway (which I took as a sort of compliment, like you seem to have just done).

              In typical “making connections where there are no connections” fashion I decided to include you in a non-existent “horribleness” tracking ledger and came up with Hit&Runmonicon;.
              Points would naturally be arbitrarily assigned and never kept track of.

              Because… horrible.

  6. The internet let crazy people find all the other crazy people. Vaccine denialism would not even be an issue if it weren’t for the internet.

    1. lol @ F-.

  7. The internet has also created echo chambers. A person who hears a conspiracy theory might say “Yeah, that sounds interesting” and then over time, they might find counteracting evidence to change their mind (this happened to me with the whole DDT killed the Eagles narrative- which isn’t a conspiracy, but was still similar).

    In the internet age, however, a person can self-select those sources of information that feed into their narrative. These echo chambers re-enforce their confirmation bias by giving them all sorts of information that they can choose to refute contradictory evidence. Places like facebook let them unfriend discentors that they’d normally have to interact with, instead grouping up with people that confirm their bias.

    1. The Eagles are still touring.

      1. Sure, but it is best to watch them at home at Lincoln Financial Field.

  8. When was the last time you heard about an Elvis sighting?

    1. Not since he drove by my house this weekend.

    2. A very recent rumor is that he died for real just a few months ago. I heard it from the iconic Vegas podcast, Ice Cream Social (at the link) so it must be true.

  9. My dear, the next five minutes can change your life!
    Give a chance to your good luck.
    Read this article, please!
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    We make profit on the Internet since 1998! ?????

  10. Going through a bunch of New Left terrorist stuff now and their rumors sound like the Alex Jones show. Every time something went wrong, it was “because CIA!”

    Potent hash oil in Lincoln Park, 1968: CIA poison!
    Weatherman not caught within months: Weather are a CIA plot to discredit the Left!
    The SLA were CIA!

    Plenty more, they are starting to run together.

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