On internet conspiracy theories
- 18 Aug 06, 04:30 PM
Most journalists use the phrase 'conspiracy theory' as an insult. Not because they're arch-rationalists who never entertain such notions in private but because if they publish something controversial and can't back it up, big trouble follows. You lot can say what you like about Diana and flying saucers and JFK, but hacks stick to the evidence, at least until they get down the pub.
But as the internet takes over the media mainstream, conspiracy theory (CT) journalism is getting a much wider airing than it ever used to, whereas the official version (OV) is no longer shifting copy like it did. So we present our net veteran Adam Livingstone's personal rule-of-thumb guide to believing CTs and OVs:
1 Journalists usually take government facts in good faith, albeit they're somewhat spun and edited. No-one ever got sacked for printing the OV, and, let's face it, challenging it takes a lot of graft for a busy reporter. So when they 're told that Iraq has chemical weapons, journalists tend to publish it . But for a reader or viewer, rule one is 'Don't believe the OV until you see proof. But assume it is true if you do see decent proof.' The September 11 CT that said 'Flight 93 was brought down by the airforce not the passengers' was once a widely held internet CT, but then decent taped evidence came along and undermined it among all but the most cynical.
2 Use Occam's Razor - which means that the best explanation of any event must make as few assumptions as possible. So just because you see a weird flying saucer and the OV claims it's marsh gas, don't assume it's therefore an alien spaceship. Favour the simplest explanation that fits the known evidence. Just because there are oddities in the photos from the moon landings, that doesn't mean that they were mocked up in the Nevada desert. Interpret the credible proof in the simplest way that works.
3 Who has the better background narrative - the CT or the OV? In other words who sets the more convincing dramatic backdrop to the events in question? The Diana CTs sold well because they had this enthralling background plot and cast that everyone was already familiar with, but the OV was also a credible story, just painfully prosaic. On the other hand the CT that the Iraq evidence was faked had a really consistent hinterland of elegantly intermeshing revelation and gossip, whereas the OV narrative always seemed to be changing or unravelling. But the background to the World Trade Centre attacks had an utterly compelling received wisdom, whereas the CTs just never remotely fitted with how any sensible person expects the world to behave.
So which CTs should you buy into? Well you'll just have to make your own minds up. I've got a mortgage to pay.