Reading Response 2

Faking the News

19 Sep 2018

The readings from this week focused on various conspiracy theories that stem from fake news. Some are a kind of forensic file of an outcome of a conspiracy, and others explore how conspiracies are developed.

Pizzagate: From rumor, to hashtag, to gunfire in D.C.

This article examines the Pizzagate conspiracy which concluded in a dramatic gun standoff in Washington DC. The conspiracy was that Hillary Clinton and other DNC leaders were operating a child sex trafficking ring out of a local pizza parlor in Washington DC and Edgar Welch, a Trump supporter, decided to investigate it himself while armed.

Contributing factors include:

#QAnon, the scarily popular pro-Trump conspiracy theory, explained

QAnon is a conspiracy theory of seemingly loosely related elements boiling down to one message “Donald Trump is in complete control. Of everything.” These messages include that the Russia investigation is a sham to expose Hillary Clinton and DNC leaders as pedophiles and that the GOP planned to lose Sessions’ senate seat among other bizarre conspiracies. It is propagated by celebrities such as Roseanne Barr and Alex Jones.

It started when the president stated that it was maybe a calm before the storm, a storm that we would find out. This led to conspiracy theorists to read in to everything for secret messages, believing that there are coded messages for them to discover.

By the time an anonymous post by a user with the monicker, Q, came on 4chan, right wing conspiracy theorists were primed to eat up any information. A growing number of followers has led them to refer to themselves as QAnon. This group has since made a variety off false assertions to outright lies.

It is difficult to combat conspiracies such as QAnon because the more you try to disprove them the more entrenched followers get as you signal to them that there is indeed a cover up.

Alex Jones Won’t Stop Being AlexJones

Alex Jones has a long history of being a wildly incendiary figure. Some of his employees claim that he said that he depended on his opposition to be in power to keep his Infowars viewership.

Infowars now sells a spectrum of products ranging from hyper male vitality serum to brainforce plus.

Debunking Handbook

Debunking fake information is very unlike learning new information. It even has an opposite effect, where attempts to debunk myth solidify it.

The familiarity effect is the result when attempts to debunk a myth in fact reinforce it. Even when you know that a myth is false, the myth is remembered often without the caveat. When trying to debunk a myth you can try to counter it without bringing it up. Your debunking should emphasize the facts not the myth.

Overkill effect runs counter to common wisdom to provide more counterarguments is more successful. Instead people prefer easy to understand and simple information.

Worldview backfire effect occurs in topics where the worldview is so strongly tied to a sense of cultural identity. Cognitive dissonance may lead people to strengthen their beliefs. One way to deal with this is to frame the information to make it more palatable and less confrontational to their worldview.

If you can avoid the pitfalls of debunking you can try to fill the gaps with an alternative explanation. Its also important to preface any mentions of myths with explicit warnings. And lastly opt for graphics if you can.

Anatomy of effective debunking: