Why people believe conspiracy theorist?


Posted February 16, 2018 by MarcTRomero

“The idea that you could be innocently going to a concert and could be shot – you don’t want to believe that’s true. You’re protecting your own feeling of security and safety.”

 
There is no easy way to change the mind of a conspiracy theorist.

Colleen Seifert, a University of Michigan psychology professor, said people were inclined to trust content they viewed on YouTube and might be drawn to mass shooting conspiracy theories simply because the tragedies were so implausible and frightening to them.

“The idea that you could be innocently going to a concert and could be shot – you don’t want to believe that’s true. You’re protecting your own feeling of security and safety.”

It’s unclear how much belief in conspiracy theories has changed over time. A study based on reader letters sent to two major newspapers between 1890 and 2010 found the percentage stayed flat. But in recent years, conspiracy theories have begun to spread at much faster rates online, and many different kinds of people believe them, said Jan-Willem van Prooijen, a psychologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

“It was always assumed that this is just a small group of lunatics,” he said. “We now know, because of representative samples in various countries, that this is really very widespread.”

One recent survey suggested that more than half of Americans believe 9/11 conspiracy theories and that more than 40% support theories about alien encounters, global warming and John F Kennedy’s assassination. There is little research on the prevalence of the “crisis actor” theory – a belief that the government or other conspirators stage mass shootings – but the hoaxes now reliably populate social media within the first 24 hours of many shooting tragedies.

“It’s typically very hard to discredit a conspiracy theory,” Van Prooijen said. “Anything people say that goes against a conspiracy theory can be seen as a sign that you are a part of the conspiracy theory.”

When Langdon, the Vegas taxi driver, briefly took down her viral video from Facebook so she could remove identifying information about her passengers, some conspiracy theorists said it was proof that the FBI was trying to silence her and cover up the truth.

“I’m a mainstream media gal. I don’t think the government is after me,” she said. “It just makes me sick.”

It can be particularly upsetting to victims of conspiracy theories to discover that intelligent people – and even their own friends – believe hoaxes.

Langdon said she learned that a mutual friend was duped by the fake news that she was murdered: “It made me realize, even in my own circle of friends and people I work with, there are people with some crazy imaginations.”

Van Prooijen, a widely cited scholar on the subject, said one of his best friends was a conspiracy theorist. The professor hasn’t been able to change his views.

Another reason it is so hard to challenge conspiracy theories is the threats and bullying that now arise from simply speaking up. One shooting victim who was subjected to an aggressive harassment campaign did not want to do an interview for fear of inviting further abuse. Journalists and academics are often spammed with hundreds of messages when they write about the subject.

Some conspiracy theorists, however, change their tone when they are no longer writing to strangers on the internet.

Amy Hallas, a 44-year-old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, woman, sent dozens of Facebook messages to the family of Braden Matejka, the Vegas victim who survived a gunshot in the head, accusing them of being liars and demanding proof of his injuries. Criticizing a GoFundMe page the family promoted to help raise funds for Matejka during his recovery, she called the family “beyond fake”, saying the victim was guilty of the “worst acting” she had ever seen.

In a phone call weeks later, Hallas claimed to the Guardian that she had never attacked the family and said she was just searching for answers.

Reminded that she had posted a meme on the Facebook page of Matejka’s brother that called the shooting victim a “lying cunt”, she said she didn’t remember and must have been caught up in the moment.

“I do feel bad. They are people, just like everybody else. Who am I to be calling anybody any kind of names?” she said. Asked if she regrets the attacks, she said: “I 100% do, and if I could apologize to them, I would.”

Some grieving parents have turned the grim task of tracking down hoax theory videos into a daily job. In 2014, Leonard Pozner, whose child was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, founded the Honr Network, an organization dedicated to holding conspiracy theorists accountable. Hundreds of volunteers now help monitor the offensive content online.

With YouTube, Pozner uses different tools to argue that videos should be taken down: invasion of privacy, harassment and, in some cases, copyright infringement.

Read the full story here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/28/us-guns-mass-shootings-hoax-conspiracy-theories
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Last Updated February 16, 2018