Conspiracy culture has dangerous implications

I remember sitting in the computer lab in my final year of high school, when a pair of lower-year girls entered the lab. To my horror, they were both quite ignorant. They were discussing the war in Iraq, when one proclaimed that the war was ‘for profit,’ and the American government had deliberately carried out 9/11 to start a war.

I take some pride, not in the fact that I used to believe this kind of nonsense, but that I rather rapidly realized how tremendously stupid most conspiracy theories are.

Conspiracies are not just misinformed, but potentially dangerous. They have a corrosive effect on discourse, act as a distraction to true debate and essentially corrupt the opinions of their proponents.

You may have seen a video released during flu vaccinations in 2009 that showed a former cheerleader who had lost the ability to walk after receiving a vaccine.

It was an example of how vaccines could harm people. Conspiracy culture stalwarts like Alex Jones brought it up as a serious example of why vaccines were dangerous. The video was proved to be totally false, of course. The cheerleader was spotted behaving normally by a news crew later that week.

By the time the hoax was revealed, however, the hectic ‘alternative media’ had moved on; but the damage was done. This is just one example of how the conspiracy media has eroded debate throughout the world.

False examples, especially in the field of alternative medicine, pop up without question in the mainstream media and have led to moral panics, hasty reactions and pointless crises.

Often, conspiratorial examples have become a distraction from the real issue. Especially during the bird flu vaccine, controversy utterly baseless fears about the dangers of vaccination obfuscated relevant issues around the spread of the vaccination, how much it cost and whether it was necessary.

The problem gets worse when considered in the context of 9/11. Probably the most public conspiracy theory to date: the idea that the American and Israeli governments were directly involved in the planning and execution of the 9/11. This is false, without a doubt as the physical and logical evidence is overwhelming.

However, the theorists who obsess about holographic planes, pancake collapses and eyewitness reports are a distraction. 9/11 is something we need to discuss. How appropriate was our response? Do intelligence services need to be changed? How did imperialist foreign policy play into the attack?

If we spend our time proving that 9/11 wasn’t a conspiracy rather than discussing relevant political and economic policies, we’re just wasting time. Political discourse should not be limited by the need to counter conspiratorial madness.

There’s a particular image associated with conspiracy theorists; the tinfoil-hat-wearing, well-armed nut job in his parents’ basement. This isn’t true. Conspiracy theories are often a sub-focus of alternative and new-age news sources, and people from all groups can be caught up in the conspiracy.

Conspiracy theories don’t just effect people who already buy into the culture, they effect everyone. There’s no reason to suspect vaccines cause autism.

It’s absolutely false. So false, that the doctor who originally authored the faulty study was struck from the Medical Register and his article in the Lancet was fully retracted. And yet, the paranoia over vaccinations has led to thousands of unvaccinated children and a resurgence of previously eradicated diseases in the First World.

Yet, conspiracies about the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission continue to seep into the public consciousness.  Rumours of secret bases, FEMA camps and inside jobs continue to distract and degrade public debate.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to the simplistic explanations offered by conspiracy theories.

Students often feel undervalued in society, and conspiracy theories offer an easy escape, but proper research and learning will always trump the mysticism offered by these false and dangerous theories.

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