These types of headlines used to be limited to tabloid printed newspapers found at the end of the grocery store check-out line. The part of the store where impulse purchases, which usually aren’t very healthy, like candy and chewing gum, are strategically placed.* Conspiracy theories are an addiction many of us just can’t quit.* But what about the impact this alt-culture has in the workplace?
Once a post-JFK assassination phenomenon from the 20th century,* this cottage industry has been amplified by 21st-century technology, metastasizing into quite an addictive tumor. Hand-held smart screen technology changes everything. The list of conspiracy theories is constantly growing.* And the internet is in the palm of everyone’s hand. Its enticing and counterproductive content a finger swipe away.
Streaming services cater to the conspiracy-theory audience. Amazon’s, Hulu’s, and Netflix’s content reflect this unhealthy habit. These publicly traded companies offer viewers things like 9/11 conspiracy films and Flat Earth documentaries.* Countless YouTube channels crank out endless videos, either claiming the earth flat or debunking the idea. This is a waste of time unless you crave YouTube views for the advertising revenue. A flat world is simply impossible, the idea is so obviously divorced from experience and demonstrable reality, that there is nothing more to say about it. There is no logical reason to bother “debunking” it.
Some people seem to think that the Zapruder film is some kind of hoax, that it is nothing more than a photographic cartoon. Amazon even sells a book about this very subject, entitled, The Great Zapruder Film Hoax: Deceit and Deception in the Death of JFK.* Imagine that! People will believe anything, especially when the idea involves fanciful conspiratorial thinking amplified by the internet. Conspiracy theorizing used to be an amusing pastime, harmless in impact, with the mainstream media promoting these kinds of ideas for decades. CNN’s Larry King Live television show, is but one example that comes easily to mind.* Daytime talk shows would interview endless streams of guests who would babble on about these kinds of ideas. But that was before Alex Jones inspired the 9/11 Truth movement.** That was before the last decade’s palm-fitting social media revolution. That was before tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting changed everything, transforming conspiracy theorists into truthers.*
Tin-foil hat content is freely available online all the time.*
Everyone likes P.T. Barnum, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! styled sideshows and everyone loves trying to solve mysteries. The conspiracy theory cottage industry has been amplified by 21st-century technology, spreading the addictive truther mental cancer, impacting even the workplace.* 20th-century cottage industry speculation became a 21st-century amplified schizophrenic revelation.*
It’s one thing watching Geraldo Rivera’s late show, Good Night America, in the middle of the night back in 1975 when guests, the comedian, and activist David Gregory and conspiracy theory author, Robert Groden showed the late-night television-watching audience the Zapruder film.* This was the first time the public ever got to see this famous home movie. The only other time the public was made privy to the footage was when Life Magazine published frames from it a mere seven days after JFK’s assassination.* It’s another thing to propagate paranoid delusions via social media.
The transition from world wide web to social media would change everything.
Today it might seem hard to believe, but there was a time when the television stopped broadcasting content. The national anthem used to signify the end of the broadcasting day.* By the time we could watch Larry King’s 1991 interview with director Oliver Stone, about his successful film, the Warner Brothers distributed JFK, television stopped signing off. The 24-hour cable news and television programming cycle would get us accustomed to endless broadcasting. Now it’s all online all the time, available globally. You can do an internet search for the Oliver Stone film and learn all about how he promoted the conspiracy theory that multiple shooters were involved with the Kennedy Assassination.* Oliver Stone pushes the idea that elements of the government were responsible for the death of President John F. Kennedy, contradicting the official account, the Warren Commission Report.*
It’s one thing to question authority. It’s another to propagate paranoid concerns about the imagined Deep State,* as Oliver Stone would do. You’d watch an interview with this director once, and that would be that. Now you can rewatch multiple videos about the Kennedy assassination over and over again. You can do this at work. Mainstream media capitalizes on the interest the public has in conspiracy theories in general and this mother of all conspiracy theorizing specifically. Like the conspiracy theorist, the mainstream media does not consider the effects that conspiracy theories could have on the workplace. This impact is now amplified by the internet, as social media means truthers have access to a worldwide audience. The internet becomes the medium for contagious, unproductive behavior.*
What is the behavioral impact of all of this on corporate culture?
Employee mental health matters. Conspiracy theories in the 21st century are more socially relevant than they were during the 20th century. Technological advances have seen to that. The same technology is responsible for radicalizing people’s beliefs. The repetitive nature of social media and human psychology are the ingredients needed to concoct quite an organizational mess. We emulate each other’s behavior, and we usually gravitate to groups who think and behave as we do. We seek to have our peers positively reinforce our ideas and identities.*
Truther communities are usually insulated and self-referential and tend to promote divisive behavior. These seemingly deluded people will spend countless hours creating paranoid social media. Many of these so-called researchers spend inordinate amounts of time pointing their fingers at each other, claiming the other person is a government agent sent to infiltrate the Truth Movement. If this behavior becomes contagious in an organization, the staff will begin to question the motives of management and each other. The employees may even start believing that there are office conspiracies involving things like promotions.* This behavior rejects diversity and creates a counterproductive work environment that is not conducive to creativity.*
The internet and social media are a double-edged sword. As much as the power of modern communication means we can do research we would have been incapable of during prior times; it also means some of us might begin to question authority to the point where it becomes counterproductive. It also means some of us might become closed off to new ideas. Online social media echo chambers can contribute to organizational inefficiency. There is demonstrable strength in diversity that the truther community denies. Truthers do not welcome independent thinking, despite what some of them may claim. They usually have litmus tests we must pass before being accepted by the group. Of course, merely passing these litmus tests does not mean we would be immune from accusations that we are undercover agents sent to infiltrate the group. Is this the kind of behavior we want in the workplace?*
In terms of productivity, 21st-century social media amplifies the power of distraction. It is hand-held, unlike 20th-century mass media, Entertainment content and more is a finger swipe away. Smart-screens fit in our hands. We carry them everywhere we go, including to our jobs. The television set used to stay home, and our record albums and videotapes along with it. With a smartphone, this is not the case. Its impact is more profound than a few minutes of water-cooler chatting about the movie of the week would have been.* What effect does the spread of conspiracy theory culture have on employee morale, the role of management, and employee turnover rate?
This addictive truther mind virus continues to spread like the dangerous plague it is.
Despite the best efforts of self-appointed online “debunkers” the truther movement seems to have only grown, continuing to spread like a contagious mental infection.* There seem to be more people lost in truther rabbit holes than ever before.* Some of these folks even believe the world ended back in December 2012.* The impact this alternative culture has on world societies might not seem very profound today, but it is from humble beginnings that all transformative revolutions originate. The events of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting would not only create the need for active shooter drills that have become commonplace in local schools; these events acted as a catalyst for the truther movement, igniting their misguided passions into a blaze of speculative thinking that they are more than happy to share with anyone interested in listening to their rantings. Some of these people even refuse to believe that anyone died during horrible tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. Believe it or not.*
It is too soon to tell what the true long term impact will be.
Professional psychologists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists will be spending decades studying this social phenomenon.* Amateur debunkers lack the training and fundamental understanding of human nature to have opinions that matter. They are part of the problem, not part of any carefully considered solution.* Debunkers usually behave in a more immature manner than those they are obsessed with debunking. These adults spend countless hours of wasted effort writing blog articles, composing forum entries, and recording YouTube videos.* Their addiction would seem just as unproductive and as detrimental to mental health as the habits of those they seek to debunk.* None of these people are using the internet for educational reasons. Nor do the debunkers seem to understand what science is, despite their carnival barked claims to the contrary. Debunkers and truthers encourage similar behavior in others. They act like this is all a game. They don’t consider the negative influence their actions could have on business, on employee productivity and morale. Employees who should focus their effort on their careers can just as easily be tempted with online debunking social media as they can with truther content. Dating websites specifically oriented towards conspiracy culture are another source of potential employee indiscretion.* How many hours do employees spend thinking about problems they are not getting paid to solve? How much mental effort are they spending worrying about what other people think? How much time do they waste responding to social media posts when they should be working?*