Modern conspiracy theorising

You are only reading this because the Deep State wants you to

This one is very much of the moment, and is an interesting weaponized social media strategy. Or, if you would like, the dual problem to epistemic trust. I should dump many links here.

As breakdown of trust

Possibly the most important angle but I have nothing to say yet. Trust and scepticism is an elixir which can produce truth when mixed in the correct ratio.

As narrative overrun

Why do you need the story:

I have observed a pattern around the internet:

  1. Someone holds claims the expert/educated/mainstream consensus on some topic is bonk. Some branch of medicine is hogwash, some physics theory is incoherent and useless, the ethical stances of some group is blatantly inconsistent and dangerous.
  2. I cheer them on, you go fellow crazy person! This stuff is bs and more should hear about it.
  3. I keep reading their reply/post/article/book… and get increasingly sad as they finish of their claims with: But I have THE SOLUTION that medics don’t want you to know, but I KNOW the correct interpretation for this realm of physics, but MY ETHICS could be imposed upon that group and they’d be saved.

I cannot express how much this saddens me. Why must it be that all healthy scepticism always turns into quackery?

As social media traffic pump

China and Russia 'weaponized' QAnon conspiracy around time of US Capitol attack, report says

Goat internet by obviousplant

Renee DiResta: Social Network Algorithms Are Distorting Reality By Boosting Conspiracy Theories :

Seeking news from traditional sources—newspapers and magazines—has been replaced with a new model: getting all of one’s news from trending stories on social networks. The people that we know best are most likely to influence us because we trust them. Their ideas and beliefs shape ours. And the tech behind social networks is built to enhance this […]

Once a user joins a single group on Facebook, the social network will suggest dozens of others on that topic, as well as groups focused on tangential topics that people with similar profiles also joined. That is smart business. However, with unchecked content, it means that once people join a single conspiracy-minded group, they are algorithmically routed to a plethora of others. Join an anti-vaccine group, and your suggestions will include anti-GMO, chemtrail watch, flat Earther (yes, really), and “curing cancer naturally” groups. Rather than pulling a user out of the rabbit hole, the recommendation engine pushes them further in. We are long past merely partisan filter bubbles and well into the realm of siloed communities that experience their own reality and operate with their own facts.

See also her posts on the digital Maginot Line, cross-reference memetics and weaponized social media.

As games

It is hip at the moment to consider the QAnon conspiracy network in particular in the context of collaborative games.

The digital architecture of Facebook groups is also particularly well-suited to QAnon’s collaborative construction of an alternative body of knowledge, Friedberg said. The platform has created a ready-made digital pathway from public pages to public groups to private groups and finally secret groups that mirrors the process of “falling down the rabbit hole or taking the red pill”.

There is a populist/popular collective horror story being written by a great many authors across the media landscape, according to Mike Hoye, writing on the gamification of conspiracy:

Hey, does anyone remember the tagline from the Majestic conspiracy game back in the day: “The Game Plays You”? Hold that thought.

You might have seen the argument from Adrian Hon recently, that the QAnon conspiracy theory is actually an ARG:

Theory: QAnon is popular partly because the act of “researching” it through obscure forums and videos and blog posts, though more time-consuming than watching TV, is actually more enjoyable because it’s an active process.

Game-like, even; or ARG-like, certainly.

— Adrian Hon (@adrianhon) July 9, 2020

… and I knew I’d seen an argument that general shape before, but I couldn’t remember where; the “bottomless ARG” idea, I mean. It hit me earlier this week, shortly before the phrase “Alien DNA and Demon Sperm” became a part of this year’s pantheon of nonsensical headline nightmares: that was C.S. Lewis’ description of occultism, and the occult in general.

Lewis saw occultism as a sort of psychological snare, a set of endlessly self-referential symbols of symbols of symbols with no ultimate referent, a bottomless rathole for the overcurious inquirer designed to perpetually confuse and distract the mind. Beaudrillard, incidentally -- creator of the term “hyperreal” -- saw modern finance, and particularly advertising, in the same light -- a set of self-referential symbols ultimately disconnected from reality, meaningful only in their own context, self-sustaining only to people trapped in that interlocking mesh.

[…] And with an audience already wound up in this unfiltered, overpopulated hyperreality-as-service, you barely need to do any work at all to kickstart the sort of amazing, self-sustaining paranoia-fulfillment engine that would have put the last few centuries’ foil-hatted quasi-mystic conspiriographists’ jaws right on the floor. All you need is enough people in rough proximity who feel frightened and powerless, a compelling seed crystal — the antivax fraud, the QAnon clownshow, a thousand others, it barely matters as long as it’s got a sharp hook — and this cancerous hyperculture machine pretty much bootstraps itself, making in-group celebrities out wannabe James Burkes pulling obscure facts together and drip-feeding the occasional five-like dopamine hit to the noobs explaining that you can’t spell “Rosicrucianist Aliens” without “Clintons”.

[…] So now thousands and thousands of people are participating, without realizing it, in a massively-distributed, collaborative occult ceremony, tying every scrap of fact and coincidence of the world together into this giant fractal-sefirot red-yarn serial-killer wall, drawing lines of imaginary digital salt from symbol to symbol to meaningless symbol, each utterly disconnected from anything more real than their own paranoid helplessness and fear.

Another way to say that is: QAnon is a occult conspiracy whose nefarious secret purpose is… convincing themselves that an occult conspiracy actually exists.

Adrian Hon’s tweet, cited above, has been expanded into a blog post where he goes deep into some depth, especially about the gamification angle.

As cognitive bias

Kirby Ferguson’s The Return of Magic, via kottke is a document on these themes. Summarised:

He also identifies six main aspects of magical thinking:

  1. Obsession with symbols and codes (e.g. pizza as a “deep state” code for child trafficking)
  2. Dot connecting (e.g. linking 5G with Covid-19)
  3. Behind every event is a plan concocted by a person (e.g. Soros and the “deep state” conspiracy)
  4. Purity (e.g. the Satanic panic and heavy metal music)
  5. Apocalypse is nigh (e.g. the “deep state” again)
  6. Preoccupation with good and evil (e.g. liberals are not only wrong but evil).

As collective hysteria

TBD: more discussion of the memetics of conspiracy theory.


Bessi, Alessandro. 2016. “On the Statistical Properties of Viral Misinformation in Online Social Media.” arXiv:1609.09435 [Physics, Stat], September.
Imhoff, Roland, and Martin Bruder. 2014. “Speaking (Un-)Truth to Power: Conspiracy Mentality as a Generalised Political Attitude.” European Journal of Personality 28 (1): 25–43.
Johnson, N. F., N. Velasquez, N. Johnson Restrepo, R. Leahy, R. Sear, N. Gabriel, H. Larson, and Y. Lupu. 2021. “Mainstreaming of Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation,” February.
LaFrance, Adrienne. 2020. “The Prophecies of Q.” The Atlantic, June 2020.
Marwick, Alice, and Rebecca Lewis. 2017. “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online.” Data & Society Research Institute.
Oliver, J. Eric, and Thomas J. Wood. 2014. “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion.” American Journal of Political Science 58 (4): 952–66.
Peixoto, Tiago P, and Stefan Bornholdt. 2012. “No Need for Conspiracy: Self-Organized Cartel Formation in a Modified Trust Game.” Phys. Rev. Lett. 108 (21): 218702.
Roozenbeek, Jon, and Sander van der Linden. 2019. “Fake News Game Confers Psychological Resistance Against Online Misinformation.” Palgrave Communications 5 (1): 1–10.
Starbird, Kate. 2017. “Examining the Alternative Media Ecosystem Through the Production of Alternative Narratives of Mass Shooting Events on Twitter.” In Eleventh International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media.
Uscinski, Joseph E., and Matthew Atkinson. 2013. “Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories? The Role of Informational Cues and Predispositions.” SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2268782. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.
Wagner-Egger, Pascal, Sylvain Delouvée, Nicolas Gauvrit, and Sebastian Dieguez. 2018. “Creationism and conspiracism share a common teleological bias.” Current Biology 28 (16): R867–68.
Wakabayashi, Daisuke, Davey Alba, and Marc Tracy. 2020. “Bill Gates, at Odds With Trump on Virus, Becomes a Right-Wing Target.” The New York Times, April 17, 2020, sec. Technology.

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