Social media creates rise of conspiracists

Anusha Vadlamani | Staff Writer

With every new conspiracy comes a new conspiracist. 

Conspiracy theories, dating back as early as ancient Rome, have progressed through word of mouth. It wasn’t until the introduction of modern technology that conspiracy theories really began to flourish: John F Kennedy’s assassination, the realness of the moon landing and Princess Diana’s death have all remained as fan favorites.

The last decade, however, has shown an increase in the popularity of conspiracy theories, most of which can be credited to various mass media outlets, most notably YouTube. YouTubers, such as Shane Dawson, have published entire videos dedicated to exploring mainstream conspiracy theories on their channels. Junior Jinal Karani said she first became interested in conspiracy theories when watching Dawson’s videos.

“I went in pretty close-minded, thinking ‘conspiracy theories must be so stupid, obviously they can’t be true,’” Karani said. “But as I was watching his videos, I was so fascinated with the reasoning behind all the theories and I realized that there’s so much more to everything we see.”

The circulation of current theories is a result of speculations about modern events. The range of events spans anywhere from believing that the television show The Simpsons predicted Donald Trump’s presidency to claiming that Walt Disney is going to come back to life. Karani said that she wholeheartedly believes some of the more modern conspiracy theories.

“I believe that Walt Disney froze his body so that he can be brought back to life,” Karani said. “He and his workers didn’t want people to find out, but obviously there was information about it online, so when anyone googled ‘Disney frozen body’ or anything like that they would get tons of images and links about it. Then Disney created the hit movie ‘Frozen’ so now when you google “Disney Frozen” or anything like it, all you get are images and information about the movie. This is definitely real because when you adjust the dates to only show websites from before 2012, they all show things about his frozen body.”

Karani, one of the co-founders of the Conspiracy Theory Club, said she and her friends got their inspiration from seeing the number of people who got involved in talking about the theories.

“Three of my friends and I were sitting in Dr. Sauer’s classroom and we would often talk about if a straw has two holes and if the earth is flat and stuff like that,” Karani said. “We would have entire class discussions about it, after we finished our math problems. We would drop some of them on the board, and then the entire class would start participating. We were like ‘this could be a really popular club.’” 

Conspiracy theories have ranged from anywhere from questioning whether the earth is flat, to speculating the realness of the moon landing. While every theory is not one that can be tested, sophomore Rhea Bawa, an avid watcher of conspiracy theories, has tried to test every theory that she possibly can.

“I’ve tried the conspiracy theory of Apple answering your phone call before you’re able to answer it and the people on the other line can hear you talk, and it worked,” Bawa said. “I was shocked because when other people make conspiracy videos and post them online sometimes it looks fake but when I tried it myself, it was a confirmation of the theory.”

Dr. Johnothon Sauer, the adviser for Conspiracy Theory Club, said that he has never been able to believe a theory right away due to the inability to check them.

‘I’m cynical, and I admit that much,” Sauer said. “I prefer to check data and check claims for myself rather than believing any group’s one side or anything like that.”

Sauer said that even the most outlandish of theories can be supported by science because he believes that science is an ever-changing thing.

“Science is never settled,” Sauer said. “It’s always growing. It’s always looking for new data either to back up the current theories or to refute them or expand upon them. That kind of questioning and critical judgment is how science grows into itself. If everybody happens to believe it, then science is going to be done. Science is about organic growth, so you don’t want to stop.”

Sauer has found himself in situations in the past where he has had to go against public opinion to conduct research to form his own opinion.

“There was a swine flu a few years ago that everyone was like ‘Oh no, we’re going to die from swine flu,’” Sauer said. “I was like ‘seriously, stop trying to panic me, this isn’t going to happen.’ West Nile Virus is another one where I did the research and found that out of mosquitoes, the estimate was that one out of every million mosquitoes actually carries the virus. And even if you get bit, you only have one in a million chance of catching it. Doing the math, the odds are so small.”

Bawa ultimately believes that the growth of conspiracy theories is dependant on people, not new evidence. 

“I have heard more people talking about conspiracy theories,” Bawa said. “I think anyone can get interested in conspiracy theories. It has become more popular as more people are discovering them.”

Graphic by Ryan D’Souza.