Call me an old sentimental fool, but I miss when conspiracy theories were about things like aliens or the Berenstain Bears, instead of about a very real virus that’s killed more Americans in five months than all of World War I.
Remember back when “The X-Files” was a really entertaining show that made you say, “Well that sure is fun to think about” and anyone who talked about the “Deep State” and said things like “Sandy Hook didn’t happen” were wack jobs you eventually unfriended on Facebook? Ah, yes…the good old days.
Let’s just start by saying that if Donald Trump wasn’t such a horribly flawed, gaseous, lying, narcissistic sociopath, we wouldn’t be leading the world in COVID deaths. His refusal to treat it as a serious threat, and his insistence on trying to use it as a political weapon, allowed the disease to ruin the economy and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. But a lot of that has to do with the fact that conspiracy theories spread even faster than the disease.
Donnie’s unwillingness to confidently take action, and actually use the power of the presidency for good for once, allowed outside powers who want to see the U.S. fail insert lies and disinformation into our social media sphere. Now I know that sounds like a conspiracy theory in itself, but don’t forget that a 2019 congressional report showed how Russian backed internet trolls successfully spread false information, organized rallies and stoked racial tensions to help Trump get elected. The same actors who perpetrated this also spread lies like “COVID is a hoax” and “wearing masks is bad for you.”
It certainly helped the troll farms that the Whiner-in-Chief and his boot-licking allies have spent the better part of a decade convincing their followers that nothing in the mainstream media can be trusted. This kind of fuckery opens the doors for fringe and unsubstantiated “news” to swoop in and spread whatever falsehoods they want. This is quite literally the actual enemy of the people.
Look, no one is saying there aren’t serious problems with mainstream media, like bias and how they often serve the moneyed interests, but traditional outlets like the Washington Post, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, this publication and a slew of others, have a set of standards and fact checking that is literally set up as a protection against the spreading of misinformation and disinformation.
Unfortunately, our country has reached a truly impressive new low where the people who believe in these conspiracy theories and actively spread them aren’t just being taken seriously – they’re also likely being elected to public office. Enter QAnon.
If you haven’t heard of QAnon yet, you will soon. Their insane and frightening theories have run through Twitter and Facebook like lice through a kindergarten; Trumplethinskin has even shared some of them through official channels.
The BBC succinctly describes QAnon saying:
At its heart, QAnon is a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media.
QAnon believers have speculated that this fight will lead to a day of reckoning where prominent people such as Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed.
There’s a lot more to it than that, including the fact “Q” is an anonymous person or persons who leave enigmatic clues for their followers to dissect, divine meaning from, and then spread their interpretations of. It’s like “The Da Vinci Code” for fucking idiots.
And yes, these people are actually running for public office and might actually win. Right now there are 11 congressional nominees who publicly support QAnon, including Lauren Boebert, a first-time candidate and gun-rights activist who beat five-term Rep. Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.
Sigh…we should just change our national anthem to the womp womp of a sad trombone.
Unfortunately, this garbage is only continuing to spread. A recent Guardian investigation found that QAnon Facebook groups are growing at a rapid pace around the world despite the social media platform deleting a group with over 200k members. Twitter and TikTok have also made gains trying to squash the dangerous conspiracies from their platforms and the FBI has labeled QAnon as a domestic terrorist threat.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is a Deep State in this country. They’re called billionaires and they actually aren’t hiding at all. They are very publicly spending their money to influence the government to benefit only themselves. This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s just capitalism.
But beyond that, the irony is that the conspiracy theorists are the ones getting played by an actual conspiracy to subvert science, facts, reason and our entire democracy.
One of the problems is that QAnon adherents say, “Well, if you don’t believe me, do your own research” but when you’ve been told for years that the “mainstream media is all lies,” you’re going to end up getting your information from places like YouTube or other sources full of pseudoscience, misleading statements, and doctors who believe in demon sperm.
So how do we battle this? Vet your information sources. Take an extra couple minutes to dive in, learn their history, and see that they are trustworthy. Also, don’t share something on social media without actually reading it and seeing if it’s real first. And most importantly, use your dollars to support media that’s actually telling the truth. Subscribe to outlets doing good work or join whatever membership program they have going on.
The truth is out there, but I promise it’s not going to come to you via some guy on Facebook you haven’t talked to since high school.
Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His column appears every other Thursday. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.