The Dangers of Conspiracy Theories and What One Can Do to Avoid Them

Dylan Andrus, Reporter

Conspiracy theories, beliefs that there is a systemic conspiracy to mislead the general public about events, ideas, etc., have always existed in human societies. However, with innovations in mass media, the spreading of such beliefs has gone from a few small, isolated groups talking in each other’s basements, to widespread, public knowledge of such theories. Conspiracy theories are now more concerning than ever with easy access to the internet, social media, and niche forums. Sure, certain well-known conspiracy theories can seem funny, but not harmful; take the theories that the moon landing was faked or the Earth is flat. However, some theories can prove dangerous to the safety of people, property, and society as a whole, especially in the current times we find ourselves in.

Conspiracy theorists, at large, genuinely don’t consider themselves to be crazy, out of touch, etc.; in their minds, they’ve discovered some secret truth that not many others know, and it’s their obligation to tell the world. This is, frankly, sad. Nevertheless, this can make certain theories especially dangerous, as the individuals who propagate them attempt to propose “evidence” that, sometimes, can seem very realistic to ignorant or ill-informed individuals just minding their own business. Such events are especially concerning considering recent theories, such as that COVID-19 is caused by 5G cell towers. Of course, this is ridiculous and is in no way routed in fact or reason. But the heart of all conspiracy theories is that big groups (governments, scientists, or corporations for example) are willfully trying to deceive the masses. As such, in our example here, the believers of such a theory argue that the government, doctors, and so on are intentionally covering up health effects of 5G towers for profit. Of course such just isn’t true–logically, it can’t be. The more people you bring into a secret, the greater the risk of it being exposed. By sheer statistics, having millions of doctors, government officials, corporate representatives, etc. all engaged in such a conspiracy would result in widespread, credible whistle blower reports. Despite all this, how do people get sucked in? A very probable way is social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These companies have millions upon millions of unique users, and moderating them all in an effective manner 24/7 just isn’t possible. As a result, conspiracy theorists wiggle their way into groups, pages, and other means of large, public forum. From there, they present cherry-picked data, official looking graphs, or just flat out lies. The effects of this are as expected: there have been many recent news stories of people burning down 5G towers, attacking telecom workers, attacking medical staff, and other destructive, dangerous actions. Not to mention that spreading this specific type of conspiracy theory can cause people to down play this concerning virus, resulting in death or serious injury to innocent people. Even more concerning, a study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology¬†concluded that believing in one conspiracy makes one more likely to believe in others.

So, now that the dangers are out there, what’s the solution? There are several fairly easy ways to avoid misinformation and conspiracy sources. Firstly, and this cannot be stressed enough, social media is not a credible news source! Anyone can say pretty much anything on social media platforms, don’t use them in an attempt to get legitimate information, seek out actual news sources. When seeking out news sources (especially online), make sure your source is credible. Sources like AP, NPR, most local news stations, and yes even the big names like CNN and FOX are generally reliable; even if these organizations do happen to be wrong they’re generally decent about correcting themselves. Finally, if you’re still iffy on something, ask an expert. In regards to this example, ask your doctor, health department, etc. Good fact checking and information gathering can save lives in these turbulent times, so please–do your best.