Courtesy of John Rojas

Conspiracy theories can be harmful

Conspiracy theories can hold some truth, but there is a line between skepticism and disrespect.

There are real people behind conspiracy theories. What starts out as a joke or mere speculation can turn into something that erodes trust, disrupts livelihoods and, in some cases, disrespect those who have lost their lives in those tragedies. 

One of the primary problems with conspiracy theories is that they fail to promote critical thinking; in fact, in many cases, they do just the opposite. Many conspiracy theories could be easily dismissed with some simple logic.

In addition to this, another rising issue is many people believe in far-fetched fringe theories without any shred of supporting evidence. Studies show a lack of trust as one of the main predictors of belief in conspiracies. This makes sense, as those who have little faith in others will naturally be more likely to buy into the idea that they are up to no good.

Other studies found conspiracy theorists tend to be more cynical about the world than most. When it comes to politics, for example, they are likely to distrust the political establishment. These results are quite ironic in the current political climate, seeing as President Donald Trump has been described as being America’s “Conspiracy Theorist in Chief.”

Psychologist Dr. Daniel Jolley spoke to UNILAD about the reasoning behind and the effects of conspiracy theories. 

“The world is complex, and complex things happen, and conspiracy theories make us feel better,” Jolley said. “For example, when a plane goes missing or a princess dies in a car crash we don’t feel great. A conspiracy theory makes us feel in control, laying blame in situations that sometimes can’t be controlled.”

The skepticism the average individual holds is completely normal, but conspiracy theories can breed dangerous beliefs. For example, following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, journalist Alex Jones continuously published and vocally stated that he believed the whole event was an inside job that never actually happened. He made claims that children never died, and it was all made up. 

Following his boisterous claims, parents of the victims sued him for defamation of character. Two lawsuits were filed by Leonard Pozner, Veronique De La Rosa and Neil Heslin. Their 6-year-old sons, Noah Pozner and Jesse Lewis, were fatally shot at Sandy Hook. 

Each lawsuit seeks at least $1 million in damages for “a severe degree of mental stress and anguish” and “high degree of psychological pain” the parents suffered from Jones’ coverage in addition to past and future damage their reputations might suffer.

Jones appealed the suit and eventually lost. He was forced to pay a hefty fine and admitted the shooting did occur. 

Through the legal process and before, the parents of the victims had to battle emotional turmoil all while someone who knew nothing wanted to spread a half-wit conspiracy theory. 

In March 2016, the personal email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was hacked and his emails were published by WikiLeaks in November 2016. 

Following the leak, some people falsely claimed the emails contained coded messages that connected several United States restaurants and high-ranking officials of the Democratic Party with an alleged human trafficking and child sex ring. One of the establishments allegedly involved was the Comet Ping Pong restaurant and pizzeria in Washington, D.C. The suspected involvement of the pizzeria led the scandal to be referred to as Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

Members of the alt-right and other opponents of Clinton’s presidential campaign spread the conspiracy theory on social media outlets. In response, a man from North Carolina traveled to Comet Ping Pong to investigate the conspiracy and fired a rifle inside the restaurant. The restaurant owner and staff also received death threats from those who believed in the theory.

Through all the speculation, numerous law enforcement agencies, journalistic outlets and government officials investigated the claims and found no evidence to support the theory.

From not believing in climate change to ignoring the purpose of vaccinations, some conspiracy theories aren’t meant to be questions. Tagging along with some far-fetched theories allows people to not do their own research and form their own opinion. 

It’s one thing to believe that Mattress Firm is actually a money laundering front, but it’s another to dismiss tragedies. Be skeptic and quizzitive, but consider who is being affected by your beliefs.