Conspiracies in my filter bubble

May 20, 2020

An article caught my attention. A person I follow on Facebook shared a piece critiquing some conspiracy theory. It was a click bait title of course, with a photoshopped image of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with a title softly positioned on the side of being against the theory, but mostly in the lines of "look at what's being circulated online". The full article, of course, proving the image was indeed a fake. And it got me thinking...

It is interesting to notice that almost all sources of conspiracy theories in my filter bubble appear to be debunkers, or people promoting the narrative running against the conspiracy. And I say "almost all" and "appear to be", as maybe I don't recognize every controversial piece as such.

I find this very strange. All, or almost all, of the vectors which move controversial ideas within my surroundings are detractors of them. I for one would never have heard about about "the virus spawning properties of 5G" or the hidden truth about the flatness of earth without an army of people using them as a source of humor, or rage against those ideas.

If I am to make sense of the world, and not just to laugh, I must say I am thankful for your contribution. Even the strangest conspiracy has some nugget of insight which one can discover (such as the possibly interesting interaction between 5G and the way satellites measure water vapors, which may affect weather forecasting). Or at least, can serve to illustrate interesting social dynamics within the groups supporting these ideas and across group boundaries.

However, this act of exploration, of nugget hunting, is effortful. It requires a deep will to sift through noise (both accidental, and intentionally misleading). It is also not the default state I am in. I can't help but wonder how many people don't wish to do the digging. Ignoring everyone who understands the joke, defaulting to instinct is a perfectly valid and understandable thing to do. Not spend the time sifting through misinformation is actually perfectly fine.

The belief of a story has nothing to do with its value of truth. The opinion a person forms is not always in line with the content they ingest, especially when presented poorly. Furthermore, the same way people hold different political views, or follow different religions while at the same time all being great and wonderful people, so will they put their trust in strange versions of the truth, and I wouldn't be able to tell who I'd influence with a controversial idea.

I can't help but wonder, is sharing the joke or the debunk part of the problem? Part of the reason these often dangerous ideas spread like wildfire. And if so, how could we try and increase the receiver's capacity to learn and seek understanding, rather than simply attack their beliefs?