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Blogs and Conspiracy Theories

Ian of Letters from Home asked me about my article series on the about conspiracy theories and blogs, wondering why I was doing such a series:

…what’s the point of this series on conspiracy theories? Why encourage people to muddy the waters further? Is it all in the name of generating hits, traffic and ultimately, money? If so, then imho it’s pretty cynical and counter-productive. With so much to sift through out there, the world needs more clarity and truth, not BS.

I agree totally. I’d rather all bloggers blogged with clarity and truth in mind. As to why do such a series? Because it’s there. Because blogs are using conspiracy theories as part of their communications and storytelling techniques.

Bloggers Start and Perpetuate Conspiracy Theories

I frequently stumble across a lot of good bloggers, even top notch bloggers, that I think have gotten a little lazy or off their game as they pulled facts together from various sources, finding connections where there were none, and stating their conclusion as a done deal. By the comments on their blogs, people believed them.

Yes, some questioned them, but more endorsed the blog post, even if there were huge holes in the evidence, and no connection I could find that matched reality. Just made up stuff. I started wondering about all those who read these “authoritative bloggers” and believed without commenting? How many linked to those blog posts, spreading the rumor, conjecture, and assumptions around the web?

As a fellow blogger, is it my job to police these? To comment, “hey, stop making things up!” To research the “proof” that defies their theory and tell it to the world? I don’t have time to slap down every conspiracy idiot I find, but when it applies directly to my specialty, I do say something, usually a little too kind and wishy washy, hoping they get the point. I’m too nice sometimes. What about you? What do you do when you stumble across a blog post you know is totally off-base with it’s assumptions and connections? Do you call B.S.?

As soon as everyone’s Google PageRank dropped to zero recently, a lot of people made things up about what was going on, claiming Google was forcing bloggers to only use their ads and not competitors, penalizing any blogger making money with their blog, and other world domination theories. When they couldn’t find the truth, they made things up, finding connections where none lay. And bloggers regurgitated these different theories across the blogosphere.

Conspiracy theories don’t have to be focused on politics or big subjects. They can be created on any subject anywhere, with the right ingredients.

Yes, conspiracy theories make money for blogs. Yes, conspiracy theories bring in traffic, attracting attention with outlandish, or sometimes truthful sounding claims.

We love conspiracy theories as entertainment and continue to promote them. I just checked the most recent posts submitted to and found these moving up the ranks of popularity:

Are any of these true? Who cares? They are getting tons of digs and people are paying attention – or at the very least, being entertained. Remember, these were submitted and voted on.

I read it on a blog, it must be true, graphic design copyright by Lorelle VanFossenConspiracy theories are entertainment. We love wondering “What if” and watching reruns of the X-Files, where there’s a conspiracy around every corner and space ship. Blogs are not immune to wanting to entertain, and choosing this method of attracting attention and entertaining the masses.

Yes, conspiracy theory blogs and hoax blogs give bloggers a bad name. Luckily, they are the few and not the majority on the web.

Blogs, as a communications tool, have the power to influence and educate. While we may wish bloggers to have higher standards, blog readers need to also have higher standards and less tolerance for a good but untrue story and to stop rewarding such faked up conspiracies with our web traffic and money-producing visits. We need to stop believing everything we hear and read and not be so gullible. Yet, it is human nature to be influenced by the sensational rather than the facts.

Conspiracy theories are so prevalent, with blogs taking over from the traditional media, the Christian Science Monitor reported in “On The Hunt For A Conspiracy Theory” that the United States’ constant battle against conspiracy theories gaining weight in truth from popularity rather than evidence and truth:

Conspiracy theories are now so influential that the US State Department’s website desperately tries to contain the damage these theories cause to the reputation of the United States. It recognizes that conspiracy theories have “a great appeal and are often widely believed.” Indeed, the theory that American foreign policy is the outcome of a carefully elaborated secret plot concocted by a cabal of neoconservatives is widely believed both inside and outside the US. Preoccupation with conspiracies is no longer confined to the margins. Virtually every unexpected event provokes a climate of suspicion that breeds rumors and conspiracies.

Snopes and Urban Legends are specialists who debunk the urban legends, myths, and conspiracies that plague us worldwide, and Screw Loose Change blogs about the “truth behind 9/11″ theories. Some bloggers have become experts in debunking conspiracy theories, or educating the world on how conspiracy theories work. Bloggers are making money and gaining fame for debunking as well as perpetuating conspiracy theories.

Until we, as a society, stop perpetuating conspiracy theories and celebrating the lowest denominators in society, conspiracy theories are a valid form of entertainment and “news”. So why not explore conspiracy theories and blogs for the entertainment value, as well as the lesson in how to entertain with a good conspiracy theory on your blog?

Article Series on Conspiracy Theories and Blogs

On a personal note, I’d like to thank you dear friend, Nancy Bixler, a public speaking teacher and doctoral candidate in Rhetoric and new mom, for helping me complete the series with Three Steps to Building Your Own Conspiracy Theory. During the last few days of the series, she was great, helping me research conspiracy theories, and the games people play with our heads, as well as the games we play in our heads. I was honored when she offered to share her scholarly tips on how to start your own conspiracy on your blog. Thanks, Nancy!

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

5 Comments

  1. Posted November 27, 2007 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    As someone who studies history (for real) I have to take umbrage with the castigating of all who look at the sometimes very real conspiracies in business and government (aka, racketeering) that do occur with aliens, monsters, and other some such.

    The American Revolution and Constitutional Convention were conspiracies – illegal at the time of their instigation. As were Watergate – a very real historical event. Conspiracies do happen.

    Granted, most of what seems to happen today is from sheer incompetence, but never underestimate what people may undertake in pursuit of material wealth and power.

    (I do not tend to write on conspiracy theories at my blog because it is way too much work.)

    Pax,

    MLO

  2. Posted November 27, 2007 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    @MLO:

    I agree. Writing about conspiracies, from all perspectives, is very hard work, and, in its own way, an art form. The past month of exploring conspiracy theory writing, and conspiracy theories in general, recent and historical, has been an amazing look at how people think and what they will fall for when placed in the right context.

    Too bad there isn’t a term to separate crackpot conspiracies with “real” conspiracies – but then again, who knows what is real – part of the fun of conspiracies. We thrive on “What if” and “It could happen”. :D

  3. Posted November 27, 2007 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    What about you? What do you do when you stumble across a blog post you know is totally off-base with it’s assumptions and connections? Do you call B.S.?

    Sure I have, Lorelle…and in doing so I’ve learned why nobody likes a whistleblower.

  4. Posted November 29, 2007 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    things I’ve learnt in life:

    people hate it when you reply to their email forward with a snopes article.

    sad but true.

  5. Posted December 4, 2007 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Then there’s the conspiracy that the Denver airport is home to a giant underground government base home to secret military projects and aliens.

    Believers are convinced at various access doors from the trams and gates you could find a fun little tunnel and be awash in X-Files style fun….


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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