There’s an interesting and disturbing long read by Alex Hern in The Guardian: The story of Facebook, QAnon and the world’s slackening grip on reality. It talks about how Facebook in particular encourages conspiracy theories.
The social network has always prided itself on connecting people, and when the ability to socialise in person, or even leave the house, was curtailed, Facebook was there to pick up the slack.
But those same services have also enabled the creation of what one professional factchecker calls a “perfect storm for misinformation”. And with real-life interaction suppressed to counter the spread of the virus, it’s easier than ever for people to fall deep down a rabbit hole of deception, where the endpoint may not simply be a decline in vaccination rates or the election of an unpleasant president, but the end of consensus reality as we know it. What happens when your basic understanding of the world is no longer the same as your neighbour’s?
The focus on this piece is QAnon, but there are strong parallels with another largely social media-driven movement, anti-trans activism – so much so that I’ve seen a number of people describe such obsessive activism as “QAnon for middle-class women”. Like QAnon its adherents claims there is a sinister conspiracy to target children; like QAnon they are often anti-semitic, alleging that the sinister conspiracy is funded by Jewish people generally and George Soros specifically; like QAnon they believe that there is a secret cabal of people who control the media and politics; like QAnon they include celebrities talking shit to large audiences.
“The industries that many celebrities work in – film, music, sport – were among the hardest hit by shutdowns. So even more than most of us, they suddenly found themselves with nothing to do but sit on Twitter,” Phillips says. “Not all of them did a Taylor Swift, spending the time recording an album. Some of them started sharing wild rumours to millions of followers instead.” This, then, is how we end up with Ian Brown, the former frontman of the Stone Roses, declaring that conspiracy theorist is “a term invented by the lame stream media to discredit those who can smell and see through the government/media lies and propaganda”.
And like QAnon, it’s bullshit that can only be perpetuated by denying reality and surrounding yourself with fellow conspiracists.
It’s not easy to overturn someone’s sense of reality, but even harder to restore it once it has been lost.
What frightens me most about this – and there are lots of things that frighten me about it – is that we know these conspiracies lead to real-world acts.