NOTICE: Conspiracy theories are the consequences of a lack of honesty, responsibility


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The United States is locked into what could very well be considered a civil information war. Every political faction appears to be locked in an echo chamber, and trust in once-trustworthy institutions has all but been eroded.

What worries me more than conspiracy theories and misinformation is the knee-jerk reaction to censor those who dare to talk about these topics. Disinformation is the result of a deeper problem: a lack of transparency and accountability.

I witnessed this information war in the midst of a heated public debate on campus. A small crowd gathered around an evangelical preacher who delivered the sermon denouncing Dr. Anthony Fauci for his role in creating the “Chinese virus” and producing a sinister vaccine. Occasionally, he would respond to comments and questions from students, but ignore hecklers.

Another public speaker was skeptic Peter Jarvio who stood near a billboard on an easel near the Carillon de Metz. The poster questioned the legitimacy of the moon landing in bold black letters that were flanked on all sides by paragraphs of pasted text and smaller graphics and photos. He was happy to explain all of this to me as I walked past.

Jarvio quickly explained why the moon landing was wrong: Earth is flat. It was a double whammy of conspiracy theory that made my head spin.

Jarvio doesn’t really like the term “conspiracy theory”.

“These are conspiracy facts,” he said. “People are conspiring, it’s no secret.”

These examples are the extremes, of course. Conspiracy theories are very varied. Some are more grounded in reality than others, such as the theories about US interference in foreign governments as opposed to the lizard people controlling the world.

Some have even turned out to be true. A sitting president hiring burglars to infiltrate the offices of his political rivals was considered conspiracy theory until he made national headlines.

The easy thing to do is poke fun at theorists like Peter Jarvio and the Park Bench Prophet. What is difficult is to take an idea seriously without accepting it as a gospel. Understanding what disinformation and conspiracies are without completely dismissing them or believing them dogmatically is a skill everyone should have. An open but strong mind is an indispensable virtue for people in the field of free speech.

Not even ten years ago, Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers used against the American public in 2013. More recently, Forbes reported on October 4 that the federal government had secretly ordered Google and other search engines to follow anyone. which searches for certain keywords.

Conspiracy theories almost always emerge when powerful institutions engage in activities without the public’s knowledge or consent. Example after example of government secrecy and corporate corruption, many people are inevitably frightened and paranoid, leading them to turn to these “alternative facts” as one great legal mind once called them.

Most of the people behind the misinformation just don’t know what’s going on and therefore resort to guesswork. What is a conspiracy theory if not a big, elaborate guess? These aren’t usually educated guesses either.

However, censorship is not the solution. A tightening in the flow of information will backfire and push disinformation peddlers to dig deeper, as they view active censorship to be no different from cover-ups and sabotage. We must refocus attention on powerful individuals and institutions around the world and demand greater access to information and the real consequences of their actions.

If for-profit companies and government agencies were much more transparent and if there were better accountability mechanisms on their part, there is no doubt in my mind that much of the world of disinformation and conspiracy theory would crumble under their own weight.

Let bad information be conquered in the open market for ideas. Factual information can stand the test of time. The truth does not need additional protection.

Eric Reingardt (he / him) is a first year pre-law student at O’Neill School. He is a freelance writer with a profile on Substack.

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