There’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of true believers. It seems everyone is completely convinced they are right when some people believe the craziest things. It’s easy to get sucked into the latest whacked out idea, but if you want to know how to inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories, there are three tricks you can use to stay on the smart side of truth.
I wish I had known that before I saw Loose Change.
Compelled to Believe
I was over at my friend Kent’s house one night shortly after Loose Change, the movie about a conspiracy theory around 9/11 had debuted. There were four of us hanging out and Kent suggested that we give it a watch. He said “It will mess with your brain.”
He was right. We watched the movie and there were a lot of compelling facts and details that made me question what really happened. I never got to the point of believing 9/11 was “an inside job”, but I did have my doubts.
If only I had known how to inoculate myself against conspiracy theories first, I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time with the movie rattling around in my brain. There were some things that would have made more sense if I did. Luckily, sliding deeper into conspiracy theories requires letting go of some basics of logic.
If you want to know how to inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories, make sure to hold your position until you make it all the way through all four levels of theory acceptance.
Levels of Theory Acceptance
One of the biggest mistakes people make with conspiracy theories is they jump ship too soon. They watch a movie like Loose Change and they see some connections and correlations and accept something as fact based on circumstantial evidence.
It’s okay to question, in fact it’s wise, but you must make sure and test out what you’re hearing before changing your view. Too many people change too early in the four levels of theory acceptance:
- Suspicion. This is where most conspiracy theories live. At best any evidence is circumstantial. Too many people are suspicious, and don’t require the evidence necessary to really prove out a theory.
- Some Evidence. This is where most conspiracy theories think they’ve cracked it. This is where Loose Change wanted me. There definitely was some evidence. The thing is, just like with all conspiracy theories, the evidence was not iron clad. A smattering of facts are interspersed with a healthy dose of conjecture. It’s purpose is not to prove a truth; it’s simply to question the truth you have.
- A Wealth of Evidence. This is when it’s not proven, but all evidence points to it being true and there is a lot of evidence. This is not a lot of circumstantial evidence, but real evidence, with no real evidence to refute it. This is often where conspiracy theorists think it’s confirmed even when there might be a lot of missing information; a lack of evidence to refute it may just be that the evidence hasn’t been uncovered yet. At this stage, it’s wise to hold suspicion that something may be up, and even work to uncover more evidence, but not accept anything as truth yet.
- Confirmed. This is when the facts have been confirmed to be true. Once things have been confirmed, this is when it’s time to change your position. Bear in mind, one of the traits of a hard core conspiracy theorist is that, even when the facts against them are confirmed, like Trump knowing the truth about COVID-19 early on, even as he was publicly saying something else, those people still hold to their original beliefs. Reports and recorded conversations won’t change their minds.
Conspiracy theories are often a step or more ahead of where they should be. Again, their goal is not to prove something is true; their goal is to give you doubt that a competing theory or even truth is true enough so that you start to believe a conspiracy theory instead. If you want to know how to inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories, read on.
How to Inoculate Yourself Against Conspiracy Theories
If you want to avoid being sucked in to conspiracy theories, apply these three guidelines to any information you absorb:
- Focus on Truth. Focus on finding out what’s true and not just confirming your bias. If all you are doing is trying to find evidence to believe whatever you want, you are a prime candidate for conspiracy theories. One of the best ways to inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories is to look for truth and only truth, regardless of where it takes you.
- Understand the Purpose. Realize that even if some things are true, it doesn’t matter. Ask yourself why you really care. Is it for your own ego or for some greater good? Be honest with yourself. Sometimes people dig into conspiracy theories because they want so badly to dislike someone or something. They will latch on to any theory that makes that person or thing look bad.
- Look from the Other Side: Purposefully seek out contrary evidence to determine if there is something you’re not seeing. At the same time, be careful; this doesn’t mean you should seek out contrary conspiracies. All that will do is lead you down the opposite path. Instead, you should look for true evidence that counters what you believe the truth to be. Weigh it. Evaluate it. Be honest with yourself about it.
Looking from the other side of Loose Change, I see so many big problems with the content of the movie. Sure, it was compelling, but isn’t that it’s goal? The real question to ask is whether there is a wealth of evidence that supports it. There isn’t.
Focus on Truth
If you want to inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories focus on truth no matter where it takes you and make sure truth is confirmed and doesn’t just provide a smattering of facts that seem compelling. Then understand the purpose of what the theory is trying to do and why you care. Finally, look at the other side. Find out why this feels so compelling to you; is it because of the evidence or because you would like it to be true, even if it isn’t?
Conspiracy theories can be compelling, but they can also be dangerous. If you want to do your part to make the world better, make sure to inoculate yourself against conspiracy theories and search for truth wherever it can be found.