Here are the four stages of how conspiracy theories spread across social media

Originally published at: Here are the four stages of how conspiracy theories spread across social media | Boing Boing


That should be on that list as stage one.

We made this shit go viral. We showed the campaigners how to do it. We made it possible to claim that the opposite of a fact was true and get an audience with this

Been there. Did that. Not proud of it.


Burnie Burns Conspiracy GIF by Rooster Teeth

I have a friend who’s way into the JFK assassination conspiracy theories. There’s a religious zealotry that goes with it, “I know the TRUTH”, and even though I entertained his ideas eventually it became tiring.

Funny thing is, I was interested in the JFK assassination for a while when I was a teen, there was even a local radio show that ran for 30 years delving into all the weird little threads of suspicion. I could never follow all the minutiae of names/dates/places. At a certain point you have to dismiss it-- the tiniest bit of evidence is seen as monumental, and slowly more and more people get added to the conspiracy until it feels like a house of cards or a dog chasing its tail.

[ETA: I wish I could find attribution or give credit for this image, got it from someone who also didn’t know the origin. I had to look at it for a while to get the full scope of what was going on.]


Organized skeptic and rationalist groups have always maintained this has never been true. The former is what led to the latter.

Our failure to teach critical thinking to the “fun wacky folks” who believe in astrology and aliens has led to every major cultural problem, from the Satanic Panic, to the Repressed Memory disaster, to psychics being consulted by police investigators, to the Alien Abduction craze, and now to QAnon climate change denial and all the rest.

This stuff has never been harmless, any more that the weird freckle on your arm was harmless until you got a biopsy.


I was re-reading Ivan Stang’s classic “High Weirdness by Mail” a couple years ago, loving large chunks of the book, and then I’d hit a section focusing on some general maniacs, and I found myself wondering how many of these kooks were now hosting TV shows or serving in Congress.

Felt bad, man.


I have/had a friend who I loved because we shared this as stage one. I never dug deeper, but something somewhere clicked for them on one particular thing and they started digging down to those additional steps. I still love them and I hope they’re OK, but I don’t want to talk to them anymore.

Feels bad, man.


I feel you. I might be observing that, remotely via two proxies, with someone I used to regard as akin to a brother. I am not sure how bad it is, but circumstances are not in their favour.

We used to sit in our kitchen two decades ago, drink and smoke, and made light of the upcoming catastrophic changes both on a regional and a world scale by discussing how to prep for that.

Later, they had for other reasons contact to right-wing people they could not avoid. They did not buy into that stuff, as far as I thought then. But some discussions showed that there was a conservative worldview and a tendency to bigotry which they shared. I tried to point that out and discuss with them. I thought it worked.

Later, another friend, who was doing the prep-talk thing with us, informed me that the partner of the person in question is posting low-key conspiracy stuff on FB, and running a very small business with esoteric remedies for serious issues.

Then, the Ahrtal catastrophe happened. They were about 200 m from the flooded zone, and while not directly and personally affected in a physical way, of course they were in a maelstrom of terrible things. I tried to contact them, offer help. I was awkwardly turned away. By someone who I was really, really close, once. And everything I have heard since then was only relayed, no direct contact. And some of it points to a conspiracy worldview.


Stage zero is the hollowing out of all our established institutions. The crisis of credibility, transparency, and accountability in virtually every single one of our institutions, thanks to vested interests and corporate money, is the lynch pin. When that fails, all manner of idiocy flows into the vacuum. We did this to ourselves.

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Back in 1999 I became a Discordian and had some real laughs. I even have an utterly splendid Moon Landings conspiracy theory that’s never seen the light of day and most likely never will because some fool will believe it. Playing the role of paranoid nut isn’t any fun any more.

Of course it’s the Illuimati’s fault, not ours.

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