Truth Decay and the Normalisation of Conspiracy Theories

Truth Decay and the Normalisation of Conspiracy Theories November 23, 2020

So much has gone on recently that I don’t know where to start and can’t hope to include everything. Conspiracy theories are being flung at as many walls as possible to see what sticks and where, and it’s all so depressing. We really are in a state of politicians being able to make any claim they want in the public sphere without having any ramification to those claims. The number of people in the US who genuinely think the election was won fraudulently by Biden is staggering:

According to a new survey from Vox and Data for Progress, 73 percent of likely Republican voters say that the allegations of voter fraud have made them question Joe Biden’s victory, a statement that 44 percent of all likely voters agreed with as well. Similarly, 75 percent of likely Republican voters said they believed voter fraud took place during the election that benefitted Biden, something that 43 percent of likely voters overall also stated.

In another survey, 35% of Republicans thought it wouldn’t be fair before the election, but after losing the election, 70% thought it was unfair. Or, sour grapes.

We know it is sour grapes underwriting this surge in conspiracy theory nonsense because…evidence. Or lack thereof. The courts are doing their job in wheedling out such claims – pretty much every single one so far – as lacking in any substantive evidence. Trump’s team has had at least 30 cases thrown out of court so far. It should be terminally embarrassing for Trump and his supporters but it seems to feed into some kind of cognitive dissonance loop. The only hope is that they are loud voices that, despite their volume, are not representative. I refer you back to those stats, though.

Here is the sort of level of evidence we are dealing with:

I have been arguing with people online about Sidney Powell, the conspiracy theory lawyer that Trump put onto his team. Trump supporters have been singing her praises and claiming her and Giuliani’s press conference was a humdinger. This is confirmation bias at play. I watch it and evaluate it, dripping hair dye aside, as a car crash; they watch it and see a clear and obvious victory. It’s probably worth listening to legal experts on the matter

Blaming Chavez, Venezuela and anyone else who seems fit for accusation is just irresponsible:

What we are really dealing with here and uncovering more by the day is the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States.

The Dominion voting systems, the Smartmatic technology software and the software that goes in other computerized voting systems here in as well, not just Dominion, were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election after one constitutional referendum came out the way he did not want it to come out.

We have one very strong witness who has explained how it all works. His affidavit is attached to the pleadings of Lin Wood in the lawsuit he filed in Georgia. It is a stunning, detailed affidavit because he was with Hugo Chavez while … He was being briefed on how it worked, he was with Hugo Chavez when he saw it operate to make sure the election came out his way.

That was the express purpose for creating this software. He has seen it operate and as soon as he saw the multiple states shut down the voting on the night of the election, he knew the same thing was happening here, that that was what had gone on.

There are several things to note:

  • Trump is not employing electoral lawyers whose day job it is to investigate and challenge such matters. Why?
  • Because no one will touch it with a barge pole, Trump gets in two-bit conspiracy theory lawyers.
  • Trump has already had reputable lawyers resign from the team, which tells you all you need to know about sinking ships (and this was early on).
  • The cases look racist in nature since they are generally only challenging black areas.
  • Sidney Powell has now been dropped by Trump, as according to a tweet. She has perhaps gone too far?
  • Perhaps it is because Powell is now accusing No. 1 Trump fan Brian Kemp, Uber-Republican Governor of Georgia, of being in on it:

i wonder what Trump fans think of her demise:

It’s funny to see Tucker Carlson abandon Trump’s legal case and Powell in the name of truth and lack of evidence. But that’s where we are at. What do FOX and Carlson get in return? Abuse and people turning their backs on them.

I would love to laugh at this, but this is a terrible shame. FOX are incorrigible, but not nearly as bad as OAN, Newsmax, Breitbart and so on. Better the devil you know. This is a race to the bottom, to the pits. It’s not funny to see FOX lose power so quickly – they are the canary in the coal mine here, overseeing the death of truth in the US.

And the world is watching, waiting, learning. Any authoritarian who is seeking power is learning from this. You can lie openly now, more openly than ever, seemingly, and that fake news travels. They are strategising, as Bolsonaro did in Brazil, how to use and manipulate social media to affect desirable political outcomes, how to lie without a care in the world for truth, how to obtain power.

I watched The Social Dilemma recently on Netflix and it is arguably the most important thing I have watched ever. Rewatch the last twenty minutes now, during this post-election time, and see how damned prescient (worryingly so) it is. Disinformation travels six times faster and more effectively than truth. We are living in a society where news is infotainment and (false) claims are commodities sold over the ethernet to the ravenous public.

We are in a period of normalisation of conspiracy theories and disinformation, where people in power can say what the hell they want in order to gain or perpetuate that power, and the checks and balances put in place to protect against this are only just able to keep things operating as they should. Only just.  Meanwhile, the sheer insanity of QAnon circulates the veins of Trump supporters like intoxicating heroin, even though it has already been found to be cut with poison by a very bad dealer. See this excellent article on the phenomenon.

I don’t think Trump supporters have the first clue as to how close they are to shooting themselves in the foot. With an RPG. And leaving a crater.

This is serious. Democracy is in the line of fire and the firing squad is half the population of the US.

I don’t care for the conspiracy theorist fools in the thread below spilling their truth decay effluence everywhere to see how many clean rivers they can pollute. They are just as culpable as the original sources. Or is that so? How much blame can we put onto these footsoldiers? Humans and their vulnerable psyches are ripe for the picking, and the right-wing populists and authoritarians are having a bumper harvest.

Society must do better. I know that Finland, a few years back, started to try to tackle disinformation in wider society (See “How Finland is fighting fake news – in the classroom“):

The US and the UK sorely need this approach.

I will invoke Brandolini’s Law again in complaining that, when I try to debunk the splurge of disinformation my interlocutors spread on Facebook concerning Trump and the election, it takes me inordinately more time to do so than the person casually posting a link and attaching some pithy pro-Trump comment. This is the problem: truth takes more work. Substantiating one’s claims is a tiring, time-consuming business.

Biden has won the election and will be inaugurated as President but right-wing populism is winning the war, the war that has irrevocably damaged public discourse. What we do now is vital to keep alive the hopes of those most interested in truth and accuracy and keeping at bay the insidious forces of authoritarian populism, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s just that, sometimes, it feels like being King Canute showing humility against the inexorable power of the tide.

Give me hope, America, give me hope. After all, though the tide comes in, it also recedes.

Checks and balances. Oh, the importance of checks and balances.


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