Secretly Scheming

In the last six months the US has seen two tragedies: the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Marathon Bombing. These two events share more than the loss of life. Soon after, conspiracy theories appeared on the Internet saying that a cover-up was involved and that the official version isn’t true. This response is familiar and seems to happen more because of the Internet.

A conspiracy theory about an event is posted on a website. These theories are then talked about on social media and then the traditional media. Digital technology is fast and easy so an idea can move from the fringe to the mainstream in days, even within 24 to 48 hours.

A ‘knee-jerk’ response is one that is quick and unthinking.

“In a sense [the media] amplify [the conspiracy theories], by also calling attention to it and helping establish some degree of critical distance to it,” Professor Mark Fenster, Professor of Law at the University of Florida and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrets and Power in American Culture said. He agrees that many conspiracy theories can be seen as strange and knee-jerk responses. However, the media focus shows how set conspiracy theories or thinking about conspiracy theories are in modern life.

Is the Internet responsible for conspiracy theories? Professor Fenster believes it would be difficult to know this for sure.

In his book he looked at the responses to two other US events: The Kennedy assassination and the official account of the hijacked airplane attacks in September 2001. People doubted more the shooting of the president in 1963 than the events in New York 2001. A poll a week after the assassination showed 62% of those asked thought other people were involved. For Professor Fenster this is why he is unsure about the Internet’s role in conspiracy theories. He believes the belief in conspiracy theories is probably the same, but they are able to spread much faster because of the Internet.

‘Ebbs and tides’ is an idiom meaning to decrease and then increase, as tides do. ‘Ebb and flow’ means the same, and is more popular in American English.

Professor Fenster says we shouldn’t reject the theorizing even if we should be skeptical about some of the conclusions. He writes in his book that they are not dangerous but a “historical perhaps necessary part of capitalism and democracy”. While hard-core conspiracy theorists will believe no matter the political situation, broader belief comes in ‘ebbs and tides’. We should be careful about some theories, but Professor Fenster doesn’t think we should stop thinking about conspiracies completely.

If something is ‘overblown’ it means it is exaggerated or made bigger than it actually is. ‘Steve’s reaction to his break-up with Jenny was really overblown. He took a week off work and didn’t leave his house.’

“The stories some conspiracy theorists tell might actually be accurate. There are conspiracies which indeed occur. They just aren’t in the global or intergalactic way that some conspiracy theorists believe. But politics does breed conspiracies but they can get very much overblown.”

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Secretly Scheming Quiz: Medium

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The US has seen two tragedies recently: the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Marathon Bombing. Soon after, conspiracy theories appeared on the Internet saying that officials weren’t truthful about what happened. This response is familiar and seems to happen more because of the Internet.

A conspiracy theory about an event is posted on a website. These theories are then talked about on social media and then the traditional media. Digital technology is fast and easy so an idea can move from the fringe to the mainstream very quickly.

A ‘knee-jerk’ response is one that is quick and unthinking.

Professor Mark Fenster, Professor of Law at the University of Florida wrote the book Conspiracy Theories: Secrets and Power in American Culture. He told The Word that many conspiracy theories can be seen as strange and knee-jerk responses. However, the media focus shows how set conspiracy theories or thinking about conspiracy theories are in modern life.

Is the Internet responsible for conspiracy theories? Professor Fenster believes it would be difficult to know this for sure.

In his book he looked at the responses to two other US events: The Kennedy assassination and the official account of the hijacked airplane attacks in September 2001. People doubted more the shooting of the president in 1963 than the events in New York 2001. For Professor Fenster this is why he is unsure about the Internet’s role in conspiracy theories. He believes the belief in conspiracy theories is probably the same, but they are able to spread much faster because of the Internet.

Professor Fenster says we shouldn’t stop thinking about conspiracies, but we should be careful about them and what they say.

If something is ‘overblown’ it means it is exaggerated or made bigger than it actually is. ‘Steve’s reaction to his break-up with Jenny was really overblown. He took a week off work and didn’t leave his house.’

“The stories some conspiracy theorists tell might actually be accurate. There are conspiracies which indeed occur. They just aren’t in the global or intergalactic way that some conspiracy theorists believe. But politics does breed conspiracies but they can get very much overblown.”

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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Secretly Scheming Quiz: Mild

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In the last six months the US has suffered two tragedies. The Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Marathon Bombing. These two events share more than the senseless loss of life. Soon after, conspiracy theories appeared on the Internet purporting that a cover-up was involved and that the official version isn’t true. This response is all too familiar and seems alarmingly prevalent in the age of the Internet.

Talking about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Professor Mark Fenster, Professor of Law at the University of Florida and author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrets and Power in American Culture said. “There was a similar cycle by which conspiracy theories popped up soon after the event. Now more than what I was describing in the book there is this online infrastructure for conspiracy theories. It creates a cycle itself.”

A conspiracy theory about an event is posted on a website. These theories are then picked up by social media and then the traditional media. The speed and ease of digital technology means that an idea can pass from the fringe to the mainstream in days, even within 24 to 48 hours.

A ‘knee-jerk’ response is one that is quick and unthinking.

“In a sense [the media] amplify [the conspiracy theories], by also calling attention to it and helping establish some degree of critical distance to it,” Professor Fenster said. He agrees that many conspiracy theories can be seen as outlandish and knee-jerk responses. However, the media focus also highlights how ingrained conspiracy theories or thinking about conspiracy theories are in modern life.

Given the rate conspiracy theories appear in the mainstream media, we have to wonder if the Internet is not largely responsible. Pick a conspiracy, you’ll find a website claiming to know the true account. Professor Fenster is more cautious about the Internet’s role. He stated it would be empirically difficult to ascertain how much the Internet has influenced people’s credulity.

In his book he compared the responses to two other US events: The Kennedy assassination and the official account of the hijacked airplane attacks in September 2001. Public skepticism was greater about the events in Dallas on 22 November 1963 than in New York 2001. A poll a week after the assassination showed 62% of those surveyed thought others were involved. The official reports concerning both events interestingly shared – to use Professor Fenster’s term – a similar trajectory. Initially accepted, the two official accounts, the 911 Commission Report and the Warren Commission Report were increasingly questioned over time. Two thirds of Americans doubted the latter, according to a poll conducted in 1967 three years after the report was published. For Professor Fenster this calls into question the Internet’s role in consolidating conspiracy theories.

‘Facts on the ground’ is a diplomatic term that means the situation in reality versus the situation in the theory.

“One way to look at this – and the way I’d prefer to look at this – is that there is the belief in conspiracy theories and the circulation of conspiracy theories. There’s no question that conspiracy theories get circulated much more widely and much more quickly than ever before as a result of the Internet and conspiracy theorists can find themselves and organize themselves in ways they could not do in 1963 and 1964. So facts on the ground, the Internet has changed a lot about the ways people communicate and find each other and spread information and collect information. But I’m not convinced that that has changed the extent of belief. You would need a lot more evidence.”

Historically, conspiracy theories are nothing new. From the pre-Internet era we have the conspiracy theories questioning the moon landing. Further back, we have conspiracies alleging the role of Freemasons in historical events. Could there be an underlying psychological explanation?

“We think of it in terms of agency – ‘I have power in the world,’ Professor Fenster said. A politically motivated theorist will see his/her role as identifying the conspiracy to allow people to resist it. They are actors in a narrative which like all the best stories concerns the vanquishing of evil.

“Then there’s the harder core conspiracy theorist who is interested in it as much as it is a puzzle and as a historian and a researcher. There is a sense of agency there and the agency is in revealing the truth. If I do this investigation I can piece together all the different things I’m seeing out there and I’ll be able to reveal to readers the true story behind the events,” he said.

‘Ebbs and tides’ is an idiom meaning to decrease and then increase, as tides do. ‘Ebb and flow’ means the same, and is more popular in American English.

Moreover, Professor Fenster argues we shouldn’t reject the theorizing even if we should be skeptical about some of the conclusions. He writes in his book that they do not pose a threat but are a “historical perhaps necessary part of capitalism and democracy”. While hard-core conspiracy theorists will believe regardless of who’s in power, broader belief comes in ‘ebbs and tides’. Many conspiracy theories tend to gain popularity in opposition to the incumbent and wane as they lose power. While we should be cautious about some theories, Professor Fenster is not suggesting we dismiss thinking about conspiracies outright.

If something is ‘overblown’ it means it is exaggerated or made bigger than it actually is. ‘Steve’s reaction to his break-up with Jenny was really overblown. He took a week off work and didn’t leave his house.’

“The stories some conspiracy theorists tell might actually be accurate. There are conspiracies which indeed occur. They just aren’t in the global or intergalactic way that some conspiracy theorists believe. But politics does breed conspiracies but they can get very much overblown.”

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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Secretly Scheming Quiz: Spicy

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