According to The Guardian, approximately one-quarter of the UK denies that Covid was a pandemic, and a fifth are touted as believing the government deliberately engineered the cost-of-living crisis.

Furthermore, a 2013 survey produced the findings that around 12 million Americans bought into the anti-Semitism-laden notion that the world governments are not run by people comprised of flesh, nerve-endings and cartilage, but are instead piloted by a race of shape-shifting reptilians who deliberately repeat the same cycles of war and misery to ‘harness’ our negativity.

What these three conspiracy theories have in common is that they’re all the product of people who aren’t inherently bad, rather, their disenfranchisement has left them with only a disintegrating grasp on reality. To understand this, we must first discern whether their stances have any merit.

Flimsy Correlations that Breed Mistrust

It is reported that just one-third of the UK ‘trust’ the government, whilst the Pew Research Centre reports that: ‘Currently, fewer than two-in-ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (1%) or “most of the time” (15%).’

Indisputably, there is scepticism which can breed a particular brand of cynicism that recognises tenuous correlations as factual ones.

For instance, I can sympathise with someone who watched America in the 2000s — the West’s beacon of hope, freedom and prosperity — as it had its health system hijacked and rigged to incentivise the mass prescription of opioids such as OxyContin. This was extremely profitable for the pharmaceutical companies; so much so, that as of 2022 their settlement fee was listed at 26 billion dollars, with their capitalistic tirade having claimed the lives of 600,000 people across America and Canada — a figure that is projected to rise to 1.2m by 2029.

Subsequently, the fact that one of these same companies (Johnson and Johnson), was drafted to solve the largest public health crisis in decades, seemed inexplicable to many people.

Given this blotchy history and the fact that most Americans don’t have the time to become chemists, there is a tendency to mistrust big corporations. Enter the pandemic, and you have an almost instinctual disregard for anything big pharma — nevermind that there were several different vaccine offerings; that the science between opioids and vaccines is entirely unrelated; and that the likelihood of a nano-technology plot being organised by just about every continent on Earth is difficult to fathom when our local councils can’t organise a weekly bin collection.

Broken Reality Feeds Falsehoods

In the absence of trust, reality can become disfigured and warped exactly to an individual’s perception of it. An incredibly relevant player in this phenomenon is of course social media.

Sourcing for conspiracy theorists has never been quite so effortless. There is no longer the need for a costly convention, or a subscription to an embarrassingly named magazine. For now, the entirety of our media is a democratised, polarised smorgasbord of discordant views and dissenting opinions controlled by billionaires whose only motivation is the prioritisation of engagement to sell advertisements.

Whilst the breakdown of the historical media structure is not exclusively negative, it has normalised extremism. If say, David Icke tweeted today that he was the ‘Son of Godhead,’ he would likely eschew the national ridicule stage and land right on the arena touring one. The soon-to-be penniless Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones’ website gains over twenty million visitors a month. The subreddit, ‘R/1 Monday, 6 November 2023 Conspiracy’ has over two million members. For these individuals, information without credibility is no longer, ‘misinformation,’ it’s an alternative fact that the mainstream was unable to suppress. Such people are more attracted to the spectacularly evil than the mundanely corrupt. More worryingly, they seem less concerned with what is and isn’t misinformation than who is the arbiter of said information.

Misinformation Hits Myanmar

Just how this vile mixture of conspiracy and misinformation can ferment and erupt into a cacophony of violence was felt in the most harrowing way in Myanmar during the 2010s. Until 2016, Myanmar was comprised of a Buddhist majority and the Rohingya Muslim minority. Like any country where neighbours of opposing ideologies are situated close to one another, there were of course simmering tensions with regards to religion and ethnicity. However, these didn’t begin to erupt until 2012, when Facebook roared into the country, set on conquering a market on the precipice of embracing internet technology.

At the time, Facebook — whose valuation was double that of Myanmar’s GDP of 58 billion dollars — struck a deal with phone manufacturers whereby new phones would come with the website preloaded and mobile data would be free whilst users were browsing. By 2016, 38 per cent of individuals in Myanmar noted that Facebook was their exclusive source of news, not accounting for those who spread this via word of mouth. In 2017, there was an onslaught of ‘clearance missions’ from the Myanmar government and civilians alike, which resulted in, according to the UN, a ’textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’ Though ostensibly unprompted, this rampage was in part the product of an extreme wing of monks, the 969 Movement, who hijacked the country’s Facebook feeds to spew hateful conspiracy theories about the Rohingya people planning an invasion. These misinformation feeds continued between 2012 and 2016.

Meanwhile, Facebook had only one moderator for the region whose efforts were overrun with ease. In 2018, Facebook declined to submit data to the UN’s investigation. Whilst Facebook, the company, did not cause the subsequent ethnic cleansing, its website indisputably played a significant part in spreading false information and stirring ethnic hatred.

In light of the above, I ask you, the reader, to consider the following: If conspiracy theories fuelled by misinformation can make me want to murder my neighbour, are they not then responsible for manipulating my perception of reality?

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.