Are Conspiracy Theories a Threat to Lives and Democracy?

Lucia Chico, Staff Writer

Social media began as a tool to keep in contact with friends, family and old colleagues. It was an incredible creation, giving people a new way to share their daily life and opinions. In recent years, however, social media companies have unfortunately been engulfed by competition and the need for profit at all costs. As a result of tech giant’s eagerness for wealth, the spread of misinformation and the creation of national and global networks of conspiracies has never been more feasible. The victims of this? Ignorant users and democracy. Social media companies now have to take responsibility for the dangerous rabbit holes that their platforms create and create humane technology that protects users, especially voters, from the spread of fake news and conspiracies.

In the era of fake news and the use of social media as a source of information, it is hard to differentiate truth from falsity. Facebook, the breeding ground of most fake news stories that can easily reach thousands of users, is the platform in which a multitude of “trolls” can be found posting misleading or completely false information. Some headlines come from websites that have no credible sources of information so, to anyone who can understand that, these articles are most definitely fake news. Nevertheless, there are many others though have been filtered by algorithms into a social media feed which shows them posts relating to their political beliefs and falsified news headlines that might interest them. So, if they come across articles like these that sound absurd to many, but perfectly realistic to them.

As can be noted, social media companies implement advanced algorithms into their platforms in order to track their users every move on their devices. From what their interests are to how much time they spend looking at a post, these internet platforms know it all. This data is then stored and used to make predictions on what content will keep users on that platform for longer- the longer a user is on their platform, the more ads they will see. Now this may seem like a genius marketing and business model and it has shown to have prosperous economic results. However, that same process that guides users into their personal “niche” of content is the same thing that leads vulnerable users into conspiracy networks. Click after click, these users are bewildered with what they read and see, causing them to dig deeper and deeper until they have fallen into a rabbit-hole of conspiracies that they become extremely passionate about.

A conspiracy that has grown a large following in the United States since Trump’ got elected to office is QAnon. The crux of the theory is that President Donald Trump is fighting a secret war against pedophiles and sex-trafickers that worship Satan, primarily in Hollywood. This sounds like a great deed that the president is doing only that these supposed criminals that he’s fighting are elites in both the political and entertainment realm. Some of the figures that they believe are guilty of these crimes and will soon be arrested thanks to Donald Trump’s efforts, include primarily Hillary Clinton and other powerful Democrats- something that makes all democrats seem like criminals and further dividing this country’s politics.

I consider conspiracy theories like these to be a solid 2/10 threat to our democracy, when rating the seriousness of it. I think there’s a good amount of illegal stuff that goes unnoticed in the higher ups but, theories like this are pretty ridiculous,

— sophomore Eugene Francisco

This all began in late 2017 when an anonymous user “Q” posted on 4Chan, a message board similar to Reddit, that they had Q level clearance into the government. 4Chan users do not have to create a username and do not have the ability to message each other, something strange for a social network. The platform is also known for it’s use of organizing white supremacist rallies. Q began posting the “information” that they supposedly had access to. At the time, this information included claims that Robert Mueller, author of the Mueller Report- a report that accused Trump of potential obstruction of justice and accused his associates of having links to Russian interference in the 2016 election- was actually working with President Trump to destroy the “deep state”. Q claimed that the Mueller Report and its accusations were all a cover-up. The “deep state” is supposedly a group of influential official or unofficial members of the military or government agencies that have an abundance of power when it comes to implementing policy. This compilation of loosely tied, baseless theories serves far right-wingers that believe Trump got elected into office on a mission to destroy the “deep state” and absolve the supposed sex ring. The list and variations of what supporters of QAnon believe in is a lengthy one full of things that are all unfounded for, lack physical evidence and even contradict some of their other ideas. These mass followings prove how susceptible people are to dangerous stories and would do just about anything to support them.

The President doesn’t help stop the fire either; he fuels it. As seen already with other issues, President Trump never makes an effort to unite, it seems that what he does best is divide. He has retweeted multiple tweets posted by QAnon-supporting users and has even said, when asked about the movement, “I’ve heard that these are people who love our country.” Trump went as far as saying white supremacist attending protests are very fine people. Some of his associates and even his son, Eric Trump, have posted images once or twice on their social media that have the letter Q somewhere in it, leading believers to think that this is just more evidence that supports Trump’s role in the conspiracy and his mission to protect Americans.

It is severe that a part of the population is so invested in ridiculous conspiracies like these and that they use the internet to be a more credible news source than actual news outlets. Unlike Facebook,Twitter and Reddit have tried to bring down as many QAnon related posts in an attempt to halt the spread of misinformation. The FBI even considers this group as dangerous and capable of violence as in various occasions, people with ties to groups like this have stormed into restaurants and have gone as far as blocking off the Hoover Dam while armed in defense of the conspiracy.

“I think while some conspiracy theories like QAnon do have some sense of truth to them, especially after the Epstein pedophilia ring was uncovered, they go too far into made up ‘prophecies’ almost that are likely not to come true,” junior Benjamin Pla said.

All of these fake news stories and conspiracies that don’t allow Americans to see the truth, are a direct threat to our democracy and even our social dynamics. The political divide and the constant hate towards the other side is destroying the United States and degrading the quality of politics.