Tim Bonney

March 5, 2021

Social Media, Internet, and Conspiracy

We have seen a huge rise in recent years of conspiracy theories. Many of the current popular conspiracy theories are political in nature and revolve around a group called QAnon. Conspiracy theories and theorists have been around long before the internet but the internet and social media have greatly exacerbated the spread of these theories.

Conspiracy theories often grab onto one small piece of truth and then add unproven supposition after unproven supposition on top of each other like a house of cards. Sometimes they are just made up with no facts to support the theory.

Back in the 1990s I served in a church where one year an active member of the church insisted that we cancel the annual Easter egg hunt because she had read online that Easter eggs were satanic. After a careful reading of the website and some research, I discovered that the author of the site was a wide ranging conspiracy theorist who was a defrocked pastor. He also believed that both Bill Clinton and George Bush were secret satanists. (At least he wasn't being partisan!) and that the "hook em horns" salute of GW Bush's alma mater was actually a satanic salute of some kind.  Sadly, when I presented this information to the Christian Education committee this woman and her family left the church.

In this age of instant information, social media and the internet how do we avoid getting caught up in conspiracy theories and false narratives?

You have to check your sources. Where did that article come from that you just read? Is it from a credible source? Can it be confirmed in other sources? What is the source's political, social and religious bias? Everyone has a bias. There is no such thing as unbiased human observations. Knowing the bias can help confirm truth but also help you to understand the world view of the author. Can it be confirmed in sources with differing biases? Does what is being suggested sound fantastical, too good or bad to be true? Is this fact of is this opinion?

Unless we have confirmed the source of an article, idea or meme we shouldn't repost it. I saw a funny meme this week which said, "Not all quotes on the internet are real" - Abraham Lincoln. Just because something is written and online does not mean it is true. Just because something is attributed to someone does not mean they said it.

The way to stop viral conspiracy theories, lies, and misinformation on the internet is to make sure we are not perpetuating the false information ourselves.

Probably one of the most disturbing things for me as a Christian pastor is when Christians get deeply involved in conspiracy theories as it harms the witness of the Church to the world. We need to be vigilant so that we are not bearing false witness against our neighbors. 

Tim Bonney