Let’s make 2019 a year to push back against conspiracy theories

Colin over at Violent Metaphors suggests that we make 2019 Less of a Triumph for Conspiracy Theories. The post is so good that I tried using the WordPress reblog feature.

I don’t like the WordPress reblog feature so that post is gone and you have this piece of old-school bloggery instead.

The crucial observation, I think is this:

Not every conspiracy theorist will act on their beliefs, and even fewer will become violent. But those extremists aren’t arising in a vacuum. They radicalize over time, after years of absorbing frantic, paranoid calls to action the culture that grows up around particularly invidious conspiracy theories. We can’t do much to control the bell end of violent extremists directly; only law enforcement is really equipped to do that, and unfortunately only after the damage has already been done. But going into the holidays and 2019, we — and that does include you, the reader — can do something to disarm the culture that radicalizes them.

We can’t control this domestic terrorism without first curbing the irrational beliefs that trigger it. That will be a long, hard challenge. It’s hard to persuade a conspiracy theorist to give up their beliefs, particularly because the most persuasive voices come from the people they know and respect.

It’s always tempting, when people start spouting conspiracy theories and other nonsense, to ignore them, move away or change the subject. Getting into a fight you can’t win is not most people’s idea of a good time — myself included.

But if we step back from these conversations, people only hear what the conspiracy theorists are saying. Worse, if no-one disagrees then the opinion being expressed gains authority by being unchallenged.

The most important thing is just to show up. Simply starting the conversation is an incredibly powerful victory over conspiracy theories, because it helps create a bond between someone falling victim to those ideologies and you in the mainstream. It shows that the harm those ideas can do matters to you and that it should matter to everyone.

The aim here is not to start a fight, or do win an argument. Just to ensure — as calmly as you can — that people know you disagree with them and that they know why. Let people know if you think an opinion is harmful, and let them know why.

No-one is going to change their mind overnight, but if you can help someone realise just how extreme their opinions have become, they make become more reluctant to share those opinions online and maybe — just maybe — they will start looking more seriously at more moderate content.