Time September 21/September 28 pp74-77 |Politics| “Down The Rabbit Hole”| “How conspiracy theories are shaping the 2020 election-and shaking the foundation of American Democracy” By Charlotte Alter/Milwaukee
Graphic source FT.com
Summary of Article
Simply stated this is an alarming article on the impact of what most of us would consider crazy conspiracy theories. As it turns out significant fractions of voters believe an alternate reality. In one survey of Republican respondents "33% of Republicans believed some part of QAnon was “mostly true.” Conspiracy theories are not new in American Politics but what is new is how social media giants Facebook and YouTube use algorithms that presents the searcher with more and more of what fascinates them. The unintended consequence is a user being presented with more and more of clearly unfounded information and less belief in standard forms of accurately curated information. The authors suggest this won’t be reined in until Facebook and YouTube, “who have thousands of QAnon groups and pages on Facebook-with millions of members” alter how information is moderated and curated.
Using one person interviewed as an example, Kelly Ferro-a mom, a hairdresser from Kenosha, WI. “Why does the news hate the President so much?” she says. “I went down the rabbit hole. I started doing a lot of research.” When asked about her research, “This is where I don’t know what I can say, because what’s integrated into our system, it stems deep, and, it has to do with really corrupt, evil, dark things that have been hidden from the public. Child sex trafficking is one of them.” Unbeknownst to Kelly, she is “parroting elements of QAnon conspiracy theory, a pro-Trump viral delusion that began in 2017 and has spread widely over recent months, migrating from far-right corners of the Internet to infect ordinary voters in the suburbs.” “It’s followers believe President Trump is a hero safeguarding the world from a ‘deep state’ cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities who run a global sex-trafficking ring, harvesting the blood of children for life-sustaining chemicals.” Ferro feels this is not “mass delusion” but rather “mass awakening”. She says “You can’t stop, because it’s so addicting to have this knowledge of what kind of world we’re living in, We’re living in an alternate reality.”
Why is this happening? First, the authors note that “Democracy relies on an informed and engaged public responding in rational ways to real-life facts and challenges before us” rather than an alternate reality. This type of “conspiratorial thinking” has resulted from the net effects of; distrust of institutions, “demise of local news”, a social media-that makes it easy to spread rumors and hard to “debunk” them, “a President who latches onto anything and anyone he thinks will help his political fortunes” and last the human brain which essentially likes drama. Nicco Mele, previously at Harvard Shorenstein Center, says “The brain likes crazy.”
The solution, the article claims will require Facebook and YouTube to change their algorithms.