Conspiracy Theories and Disinformation Operations

Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.

Immanuel Kant

A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.

Joseph Goebbels

Do people know that the world is ruled by alien lizards disguised as humans? The lizards want to limit the population of earth to 500 million, and they are so polite to explain exactly that in eight different languages in the granite monument in Georgia. But how can they kill nine-tenths of the world’s population? It is easy for them, and they already use several methods to achieve this objective, including vaccines that kill, and “chemtrails” (the long-lasting condensation trails, or contrails, left behind aircrafts). If people do not know the above, disinformation agents are more that willing to give them all the details. They will spread the illusion, and their victims will feel good to be the wise goats in a flock of sheep.

Is a conspiracy theory dividing the society? If the answer is yes, it can be weaponized.

Conspiracy theories can have harmful consequences for every society. They elicit poor health choices, climate-change indifference, intergroup conflict, aggression, and radicalization (Brotherton, Douglas).

First of all, a conspiracy is a coalition of people cooperating toward a common goal (Bale). A conspiracy theory is just a theory - ideas that provide an explanation to a phenomenon, but there is no evidence to support them. It is a generalised statement that makes assumptions and asserts, explains or predicts relationships or connections. The lack of evidence does not matter at all, these theories appeal to the emotions of belief-holders.

Disinformation agents find good conspiracy theorists, or even act as conspiracy theorists, that construct explanatory narratives based on ungrounded and irrational speculations that divide the societies, and they are successful in that. How in the world can it be possible?

Conspiracies often do exist. People do form coalitions that plan to harm others, and they do carry out these plans. Politicians and corporate leaders can be corrupt, and people often learn that the persons they admired have a "dark side". These facts make people believe that many other bad things still remain hidden, and that conspiracy theories could be true.

Conspiracy theories are not restricted to any particular culture or time period, they have been widespread throughout human history, as they fulfill needs of people. Randomness is scary. It is human nature to search for easy explanations for something people cannot understand, and to try to address particular anxieties, sadness or anger. The scientific way is usually difficult, evidence is also difficult to find or understand, but conspiracy theories describe a simple and clear hidden structure of the world. The "establishment" hides what happens and labels people that "know the truth" as delusional or paranoid. Of course, victims believe they are attacked because they know the truth, so they are dangerous for the "system".

Studies show that people turn to conspiracy theories when they are anxious (Grzesiak-Feldman), feel powerless (Abalakina-Paap, Stephan, Craig, Gregory), lack sociopolitical control (Bruder), feel unable to control outcomes (van Prooijen, Acker).

People want to belong in groups that support a noble cause, they love to maintain a positive image of themselves and their groups, they love to conclude that the blame for negative outcomes must be attributed to others.

Why are some people successful? They cannot be better that the others. They are probably puppets who are controlled by secret societies and hidden organisations working behind the scenes. There is no evidence, but "some people know how the establishment rules the masses".

Voltaire believed that illusion is the first of all pleasures. Disinformation agents understand the human nature and the tendency for self-deception. They work on the cognitive biases and cultivate deviation from rationality in judgment. Here are some examples of biases:

The Dunning–Kruger effect

In the Dunning–Kruger cognitive bias, people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. For example, when the bottom quartile of performers in a study completes a quiz and estimates how well they did, they tend to see themselves as being part of the top quartiles.

Poor performers often do not have the ability to distinguish between good and bad performances. They tend to overrate themselves because they do not see the qualitative difference between their performances and the performances of others.

For example, people without a university degree may consider that a degree is nothing important. They strongly believe that without any degree they still have the same (if not better) ability to understand pretty much everything, from biology to astronomy (sometimes confused with astrology).

The self-serving bias

People love to take credit for positive events or outcomes, and to blame others or outside factors for negative outcomes. This is called self-serving bias.

For example, if they apply for a job and they get hired, their achievements and qualifications were probably amazing. If they fail, the interviewers had already given the job to a friend or relative, or they were absolutely incompetent.

The confirmation bias

People favor information that confirms or strengthens their beliefs or values, ignoring contrary information. They also interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing views and attitudes, and they falsely perceive an association between two events or situations. This is called confirmation bias.

The pessimism bias

People can overestimate the likelihood of negative things, and underestimate the likelihood of positive things. It can distort people’s thinking and it can lead to irrational decision-making.

People with this bias actively cultivate a pessimistic outlook in everything. They focus on obstacles they may encounter. They easily believe the bad scenarios in conspiracy theories.

Easy victims

Disinformation agents carefully scan the social media and target persons that show specific personality traits and characteristics:

- they are boastful, exaggerating their own achievements,

- they have low trust in others,

- they feel superior to others,

- they have lack of empathy for others,

- they have stronger need to feel special,

- they believe that the world is a dangerous place,

- they are monopolising conversations,

- they are always impatient,

- they are always unhappy,

- they are always angry,

- they are always depressed,

- they have paranoid or suspicious thinking,

- they see meaningful patterns where none exists.

Check before sharing.

- Check the author: Who is writing and why?

- Check the source: Is it reliable and reputable?

- Check the tone and style: Is it balanced and fair or one-dimensional?

- Understand why you want to share something.

- Understand the modus operandi of disinformation agents, that weaponize conspiracy theories to divide their adversaries.