Lesson no.: 6 HOW TO RECOGNIZE A CONSPIRACY THEORY
“The Illuminati control the world.” This is one of the most widespread conspiracy theories in the world which is used to point to an alleged organization for conspiracy, acting as “hidden power”, allegedly controlling the world affairs through the current governments. In this context, it is believed that the Illuminati control certain events that would lead to the establishment of a new world order. We use it as an example for detecting conspiracy theories. People like to believe in conspiracy theories. They like to believe that there is a small group of people who could change and control the world.
What is actually a conspiracy theory?
According to the political scientists Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, the conspiracy theory is an explanation which includes hidden forces, focused on advancing certain goal, which is often evil.
The conspiracy is understood as secret association and acting of a certain group of people that want to realize some personal interest, which on the other hand is harmful for another group of people. The real conspiracies in general are aimed at committing criminal offences such as corruption, espionage, terrorism… The conspiracy theories in the media do not fall into this type of conspiracies, although the investigative journalists try to uncover such activities.
In this case, the term “theory” is used informally, instead of “speculation” or “hypothesis”, i.e. it is not about a scientific theory.
Terminologically, the conspiracy theory is present when the reporting articles contain false or unchecked description of an occurrence, person or event, which is part of some secret plan. In situations as this, the media put several theses in their articles and present them as interconnected facts, but they do not provide credible evidence for this.
We will use the Popes visit in May as an example of a conspiracy theory. Just two days before his visit, on 5 May 2019 some Serbian media published a sensational prophecy by Nostradamus, according to which the Pope will be assassinated during his visit of North Macedonia.
The conspiracy theory has been taken over by some Macedonian media. This conspiracy theory, which was published as a sensation in the media, overstepped the journalist codes for professional reporting. The aim of this conspiracy theory was to create a massive panic.
Missing true evidence which should support the proposed thesis, the conspiracy theories are built upon fake news, disinformation, pseudoscience, and other unchecked information, by which the speculations are presented as facts, and the false conclusions as an analysis. The conspiracy theories use manipulation techniques, such as the following:
Creation of problems
The conspiracy theories are harmful. By diverting the attention, the public is “flooded” with unimportant information, so that people would not think and would not acquire basic knowledge in understanding the world. Through the creation of non-existing problems, a “problem” is created in order to provoke reaction from the public. The arousing of emotion, i.e. misusing the emotions creates emotional responses, such as panic and fear, which makes the public to adopt wrong decisions in reality. The unchecked information contained in the conspiracy theory are equal to the ignorance of the public. There is a huge gap between the knowledge of the public and the knowledge of those who possess it and use it.
Globally, one of the most widespread conspiracy theories is the theory about the harmful effects from vaccination. This theory contributed towards decreasing the rate of immunization in many countries, which in turn resulted with epidemics of contagious diseases which have been already eradicated. We are witnesses to the fact that this conspiracy theory was also present in our country.
The reasons for the appearance of the conspiracy theories in the media are the following:
The first two reasons bring power and profit to the media, through the spread or popularization of the conspiracy theory.
The third reason appears when the authors really believe in the conspiracy theory that they propagate through the media.
It is very difficult to stop the conspiracy theories, especially with rational arguments. This is so because they have been in circulation for years and are widespread. It is very difficult to prevent the emotional reactions that they cause.
This project was funded in part through a U.S. Embassy grant. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the implementers/authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.