In general, conspiracy theories are ideas about someone, often an elite, a group of people or an institution, being involved in a plot to achieve a hidden objective. The goal is the destruction of society and it is therefore kept secret. Conspiracy theorists are often more interested in undermining official statements by spreading distrust than proving their own theories.
As with other belief systems, conspiracy theories have a significant function. Some individuals and groups are more receptive to believe in such theories, and support for the ideas must be seen in conjunction with the social conditions surrounding the people concerned. Crises and uncertainty are hotbeds for conspiracy theories. However, being critical to your surroundings and looking for patterns and connections are also common human traits. It is also about our inherent ability to be aware of danger.
Some conspiracy theories are less dangerous than others, such as those claiming that Elvis is alive, or that the Earth is flat. Other conspiracy theories can be dangerous, particularly those that declare a group of people to be the enemy. The Holocaust is an example of what extensive conspiracy theories about a religious group, in this case the Jews, can lead to. Belief in a conspiracy theory can entail less faith in democracy and for some, a greater tendency to think that violence is justifiable. Conspiracy theories often refer to an acute crisis situation that requires immediate action, and this understanding can play a key role in radicalisation processes towards extreme acts.
Conspiracy theories, and at the very least the distrust they often convey, can rapidly become part of everyday conversation and infiltrate people’s understanding of the world. They are persistent and tenacious, regardless of how many times they are disproved and discarded as being false.
It is not necessarily the comprehensive conspiracy theories we most commonly see, but rather what researchers Døving, Emberland and Dyrendal refer to as conspiracy talk. This takes the form of insinuations, jokes, memes and comments that refer to conspiracy theories, but without specifically naming them.
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