Hey, Let's Fake A Conspiracy Theory Website!

The Snelgraphix Designing Minds Blog: Monitoring Online Conspiracy Theory Culture

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno. Plate IX: Canto III: Arrival of Charon. "And lo! towards us coming in a boat / An old man, hoary with the hair of eld, / Crying: 'Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!' •  Wiki Commons

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno. Plate IX: Canto III: Arrival of Charon. "And lo! towards us coming in a boat / An old man, hoary with the hair of eld, / Crying: 'Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!' • Wiki Commons

Did I grab your attention? Good. That was the idea.

This particular blog post is meant for you if you are a member of the online conspiracy theory community. If you are not, perhaps you will still find this an interesting article.

I have to be honest. I have been using the online conspiracy theory community as a marketing petri dish. I was able to collect lots of information about social behavior and belief systems, magnified by social media. I was also able to test various memes. I didn't care about the truth. I cared about understanding the social impact that the internet has on human behavior.* I cared about influencing this community's influencers. My agenda included disruptive troll-like behavior.

You might be wondering why I chose this particular online community to infiltrate and study. Let me explain.

In my opinion and experience, these are some of the most creative and imaginative people online. This lure was too good to resist. Some of these folks would reveal all sorts of information useful to someone interested in communication design and marketing like myself. Many of the lead content creators were talented, intelligent, likable, and funny. My takeaway was that the lead community influencers do not believe in the conspiracy theories they promote; most of them don't actually drink the Kool-Aid they sell.*

You might be wondering why I didn't try to communicate my ideas clearly.

I wanted my effort to look like the work of an amateur. I didn't want to bother polishing my writing or spend more time than I had to on it. Moreover, I had nothing to communicate. It was all bait. It was all sizzle and no substance. I would audit a subject and present the information filtered for the conspiracy theory audience.

I had other reasons for my online activity, besides a lifelong passion for roleplaying.*

Social media means you can advance multiple agendas at once. It's not like I don't have other reasons for my online activity. I certainly do. But this would be confidential Snelgraphix information, and this is beside the point.*

I monitored chatroom behavior.

I was collecting data. It wasn't like I had to spy on anyone. Some of these people record their chatroom conversations and post them to their blogs. And of course, one can always read comment sections.

Social media, the cons, and the pros examined. Here's what I found out.

The bad: Social media amplifies divisive behavior.* Antisemitism is all too common. Racist behavior is another problem. Discriminatory anti-LGBTQ rhetoric occurs. And of course, there's the occasional case study in online bullying. People susceptible to schizophrenia and apophenia could be at risk.* Social media encourages roleplaying due to its anonymous nature. Conspiracy theories encourage imaginative thinking. It seems to me that this can be a potentially hazardous combination for those of us with mental health issues.* I'm no trained psychologist, but I saw people with possible mental illness seemingly taken advantage of by fellow community members who should know better. Is it wise to feed into someone's delusions by interviewing them for your conspiracy theory podcast?

Some of these middle-aged adults claim to believe in things demonstrably false; they do not appear to be roleplaying or joking. I hope I'm wrong and that they are pranking everyone, but I can only go by what they claim. One person even went so far as to question the reality of the funeral they were attending. They made this knowledge public to their fellow community members. This person made a conspiracy theory "case study" about a personal tragedy. This is someone who has lost touch with reality. For some bizarre reason, this person thought they had to prove that their friend had died. This adult even went so far as to send photos from the funeral. The internet amplifies many things. Conspiracy theory culture has mutated into something new as a result of the proliferation of social media. People never used to act like this.***

What was once a 20th-century pastime has metastasized into a potentially socially hazardous, apophenia and obsession-inducing, 21st-century mental virus.*

The good: You can reach around the globe and contact other like-minded individuals. You can form a virtual community that can be a positive force in your life. That is, as long as you don't lose touch with reality. Stay grounded by taking mental health breaks away from social media content. We can also use social media to join together to stop victim harassment and online bullying. Please click here: https://www.honrnetwork.org/join-the-honr-network.

More next time.

Patrick DelVecchio, Chief Imagination Officer, Snelgraphix.