I am that annoying Facebook friend who can smell an Internet hoax a mile away. It’s a skill I had to develop as an entertainment reporter because I often ran across stories or received tips that were about as reliable as the R train on a weekend. My protocol is made up of a few simple questions:
- Is the headline particularly shrill?
- Is it just a picture with a caption and no news source?
- If there is a source, are they reliable? (AP: yes, Natural News: no)
- Are they telling me to “like” the picture or story?
- Are they telling me to “share this with everyone you know”?
- Is it being covered by any other reliable news outlet?
- And most reliable of all: is my gut telling me this is b.s.?
Internet hoaxes are often based on conspiracy theories, which I also can’t stand. They cause unnecessary anxiety ( “The entire city of Tokyo is evacuating!” “The world is going to end on October 21, 2012!”), they distract people from dealing with the real issues (“Why try to find the root cause of autism when we know it’s caused by vaccines?” “Why try to come up with effective anti-poverty policy when the shape-shifting lizard people control the Federal Reserve?”), and they can be downright deadly (“Why have the life-saving surgery when you can [insert quack “cure” here] instead?”)
Last week, Public Policy Polling released the results of their poll regarding American’s beliefs about various conspiracy theories. As usual, they asked a lot of wacky questions and some were downright vague. Heck, I’d answer yes to “Do you believe aliens exsit?” because I believe there is likely life somewhere out there in our vast universe. I don’t, however, think they’ve made it to our tiny little speck of a rock yet. But a surprising amount of people believe Obama is a Muslim, vaccines cause autism, and that global warming itself is a hoax. In an interesting twist, some of the people who say they believe Obama is the AntiChrist also voted for him. I’m hoping that means there were some survey respondents who were just goofing on the pollsters.
So why do people believe so fervently in conspiracy theories? Author and publisher of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer, writes in his book, “How We Believe,” that …
- Why do some people believe the moon landings were a hoax? (illuminutti.com)
- Top 10 Conspiracy Theories in the World (americanlivewire.com)
- Poll: Wide Divide Between Republican And Democrat Voters On Conspiracy Theories (charlotte.cbslocal.com)
- One in four Americans think Obama may be the antichrist, survey says (guardian.co.uk)
- General Conspiracies – Poll: 28% of Americans Believe in a “NWO” Conspiracy (disclose.tv)
- America Loves Its Conspiracy Theories (newser.com)
- Conspiracy Theory Poll Results (wired.com)