Covert plots based in material reality, covert plots based in metaphysical reality, and the grey area in between

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Art by Jeff Cassel

Conspiracies are traditionally defined as “secret plots by groups to do something unlawful or harmful.” This is a vague definition that could range from innocuous institutional activities to rogue shadow governments controlling the world. Conspiracy theories are often defined the same way, which isn’t helpful. Various experts have posited definitions to separate conspiracy theories from conspiracies, such as political scientist Michael Barkun who coined three types:

  1. Event conspiracy theories: theories that surround high-profile events (e.g. the Kennedy assassination, 9/11, or COVID-19)


An analysis of known factors that can influence people toward conspiracy theories and paranoia

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Artwork by Jeff Cassel

Far more people believe in conspiracy theories today than one might realize. Polls have found that around 36% of Americans believe it’s at least probably true that COVID-19 was planned by people in power, 74% believe some type of “deep state” exists, and 50% of Americans believe at least one conspiracy theory. Some experts even believe humans evolved the tendency to conjure conspiracy theories thousands of years ago from tribes being paranoid of violence between one another. They can be observed throughout human history with peasants, slaves, and working people having to speculate what the rich and powerful were doing, because in many cases they were in fact, conspiring. So what else causes this thinking? …


How QAnon, Save The Children, and well-meaning people spread misinformation with bad statistics and vague terms

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Design by Jeff Cassel

In the past several years, two intersecting conspiracy theories have captured the imaginations of millions of people — Pizzagate and QAnon. Pizzagate spread online in late 2016 as 4chan and Reddit users concocted a narrative that high-ranking Democrats were running an underground child sex trafficking ring in Washington DC based on code words they interpreted from leaked DNC emails. QAnon spread similarly in 2017 when an anonymous 4chan user going by “Q” posted a series of messages claiming they were secretly working with Trump and the military to bring down a global cabal of satanic pedophiles, including Hillary Clinton and George Soros. These conspiracy theories originated in anonymous subcultures, then eventually bled into public platforms like YouTube and Facebook where millions of people began following them. …


A comprehensive mapping of paranoia, propaganda, moral panics, misinformation, and extremism

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Art by Jeff Cassel

Conspiracy Culture In America Today

Over the past century, conspiracy theories have primarily referred to fringe beliefs, such as the moon landing being faked or the Denver Airport being built by the New World Order. However, in recent years they’ve become increasingly popular through mass media and the internet, with the term primarily used to describe people who form entire ideologies involving global shadow governments, corporations, and powerful people. These ideological conspiracy theories are generating rapid appeal in the wake of coronavirus, merging with decades of general paranoia and spreading faster than the truth, resulting in extremist echo chambers that thrive on misinformation to counter the “mainstream.” To be clear with how terms are used in this paper, conspiracies are defined as covert plots to do harm and can be uncovered through abductive reasoning and material evidence, whereas conspiracy theories are unfalsifiable narratives formed through prejudices, sensationalism, and flawed assumptions based outside material reality. …


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Most of the smartest, thoughtful people I know have abandoned social media over the past few years. Maybe they felt addicted, bored, tired of the news, or out of touch. But you know what seems to be the common factor that put them over the edge? Stupid, opinionated people.

I specifically say “smart” and thoughtful” because some smart people can be elitist assholes, and I specifically say “stupid” and “opinionated” because some stupid people can be inoffensively pleasant. I don’t believe all stupid/opinionated people are lost causes, they just make the internet (and world) a worse place. It’s not their opinions, it’s their confidently uninformed opinions. It’s the fact that they’re capable of learning, but don’t. It’s that they spend no time researching subjects before developing strong opinions about them. It’s people who freak out when criticized, ignore evidence that contradicts their biases, and type loaded sentences into google to get the results they want. …


A look into what brands have done and can do on the new video platform

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Brands have been looking closely at TikTok for years as it’s grown into one of the largest global social media platforms, only behind Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. For years it was seen as a fad — the next Vine or Musical.ly. Today it shows no signs of slowing down. As with all new platforms, the demographics skew young and it’s still full of questions. Brands have hesitated to join because the ROI data isn’t clear, they don’t “get it,” they’re waiting for its privacy issues to be resolved, or they just don’t see it as their market. …


How a community of young joke writers became cult personalities and shared across the internet

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Twitter has evolved into a viral meme factory over recent years, arguably surpassing the old guard of Reddit, 4chan, and Tumblr. Screenshots from those forum and blog sites once populated public platforms like Facebook, but have now been replaced by tweets. The clean, 280 character format is easy to share and lends itself to quick setups that feed our dwindling attention spans, making it a hotbed for content creators who have mostly stayed under the radars of other platforms. The avis and usernames of these creators are constantly aggregated across BuzzFeed-esque lists and Instagram meme accounts for millions to see, but only a fraction of those viewers know who they are since very few seek out meme origins. …


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As time goes on, the blanket labels of “left” and “right” become less and less useful in the United States political spectrum. The establishment Republican and Democratic parties still control our binary voting system and mass media narratives, but beneath the surface there are now countless new political identities that influence both parties. These identities have existed for decades, but the internet has expedited their growth with more sources of information forming each year, providing more options for people to take their views beyond traditional party frameworks. Along with this, the average person’s understanding of what accurately constitutes “left” versus “right” has been warped by watered down language, lazy generalizations, and sensationalism. To provide context on how these social changes and disconnections became prelevant, this article will first lay out how political party narratives have split over the past century, then how the internet laid a groundwork for new identities to emerge, which further divided (and confused) people. …


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This goes out to all the ExtremelyOffline™ people. The normies. Those of you with brains that have not been melted by a lifetime of being online. If you would like a torch to guide you on your journey through the dark chasms of the Internet, read on. Perhaps you’ve been called a “chad” and thought to yourself, “but… my name is not Chad?” Maybe you were sent a link that said “NSFL” and wondered what it meant, clicked, then had your day ruined by some video of a cougar mauling a baby zebra. These things happen. You are not alone.

Below are a few brief, alphabetical lists of basic terms, acronyms, and general rules/laws that either directly or indirectly pertain to portions of internet culture. You can now reference back here in case you stumble into confusing territory on your journey. Most of this content has originated from subcultures both on and offline, then made its way to aggregating platforms like Reddit, 4chan, Tumblr, YouTube, or Twitter, where it becomes part of the common vernacular. Some portions may seem obvious to you, while others may seem completely foreign or absurd. …


We live in flawed social systems. At least, more people share this sentiment every year, especially among active users online. Even those who favor the systems of capitalism and consumerism still often criticize the brands within them. Why? Because they’re brands. They’re not people. They’re entities designed for profit, no matter how altruistic or well intended they may be, therefore when a brand attempts to appear human on social media, it’s natural to respond with phrases like “this is peak late capitalism” or “this is so 2019,” then go right back to mindlessly scrolling until the next cycle of outrage and confusion begins. Rinse. Repeat. …

About

Nathan Allebach

writer covering internet culture, advertising, and conspiracy theories

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