We like to pride ourselves in being individualistic, independent and unique. And while our opinions on most topics may differ, there is one thing we all have in common: intellectual laziness.When it comes to problems, whether it be personal struggles or societal issues, we tend to turn to the easiest explanation. And, most importantly, one that blames anybody but ourselves. Let’s face it: there is no better feeling than finding comfort in the fact that everyone else apart from you behaved in the wrong way. Evidently, the Covid 19 pandemic turned all our lives, young or old, privileged or unprivileged, upside down. So, what were we desperately looking for? A simple explanation.
Of course, the abundance of contradictory statements from politicians, health officials and scientists weren’t of much help in providing clear guidance. In establishing the “truth” behind the matter, we all became fish trapped in the tangled net of claims and counterclaims. It comes to no surprise that the ones who already struggled to believe in the political system of their country turned to a different source of information: conspiracy theories.
Obviously, conspiracy theories have existed long before Covid-19 took over our world in 2020. But whereas a couple years ago, most of us smilingly belittled the strange outsiders of our society united under names like “Scientology”, the distinction nowadays has become shockingly blurry. Today, our neighbour, our high school friend or the cashier at our local grocery store may have converted to the “other side”.
Social Media: the gas fueling the conspiracy engine
Thanks to the internet and social media, the rapid distribution of misinformation appears nearly unstoppable. In addition, the more exaggerated the post, the more attention it will receive. Once sucked into the endless current of misinformation, algorithms are already programmed to provide even more shocking facts supposedly supporting and proving conspiracy theories.
When are we finally declaring technology our enemy and returning back to washing our laundry in the river, go hunting for food and enjoy a candlelight dinner?
Increasingly more people report how they have witnessed their loved ones drifting further and further away from reality – pointless to confront them with scientific facts. Now, one might go ahead and say: “Let the people believe in what they want, where is the harm? After all, we know better. Why put in the effort to persuade them?” The problem is that beliefs lead to actions. Especially, if you’re 100% sure that Bill Gates invented Covid 19 to take control over human kind, you won’t want to stay home and watch. Clearly, he has to be stopped!
Does loneliness turn us into violent conspiracy theorists?
Another popular conspiracy theory blamed 5G cellular technology for causing the virus. Just as smartphones have glued innocent children to their screens, 5G has planted a deadly disease in our bodies. When are we finally declaring technology our enemy and returning back to washing our laundry in the river, go hunting for food and enjoy a candlelight dinner?
Followers of this particular plot scheme have attacked Telecom workers in the UK and in the Netherlands, citizens set various Telecom masts on fire. Thanks to their efforts, we may be able to prevent a 5th wave of the virus – or are we already at the 6th? There is yet another bonus point: conspiracy theorists never run out of creative ideas. If it isn’t Donald Trump who will save the world during the next decade, I am sure a new hero will be announced soon enough.
One might wonder: do these, seemingly absurd theories provide solace or, in other words, a last anchor of hope? In the age of polarization, does believing a theory really constitute a question of conviction or is there something more to it?
Now why exactly do we choose to believe strangers online? Recent studies have not only shown a correlation between digital media and misinformation beliefs, but a link between depression and higher levels of trust in conspiracies. One might wonder: do these, seemingly absurd theories provide solace or, in other words, a last anchor of hope? In the age of polarization, does believing a theory really constitute a question of conviction or is there something more to it? Covid-19 has decreased our social contacts to the bare minimum – being part of a group suddenly became impossible in real life. In the past, it may have been religion which united people. Thus, are conspiracy theories the new religion of 2021?
Can the world still be saved?
Regardless of whether followers of QAnon & Co. believe in the underlying philosophy of the movement or simply strive for the feeling of taking part in “something big”, if we want to prevent our society from drifting further and further apart, change needs to take place. Clearly, the key remains in limiting the distribution of fake information online. And whether we like it or not, there are only a few actors who can have a real say in the matter: Instagram, Facebook, Google and Twitter themselves.
Why do we not work to construct algorithms in such a manner that information online is clearly labelled in terms of reliability, trustworthiness and scientific back-up? Instead of complaining about the role of social media in the distribution of false information, politicians should finally reach the realization that social media is a part of our society. A part we have to learn how to live with – and that requires constant adaptation.
Rather than criticizing social media platforms, painting a black-and-white picture of reality – a good one without the internet and a hopeless one with it – we should stop letting social media determine our reality at all. Politicians finally need to cooperate with technology giants to identify sources of fake information and decrease the polarizing effects of the digital world.
After all, this might be our last call to save society before aliens take over planet earth in 2050…
Edited by Carolina Alves