Conspiracy Theories #81

Deepnews Digest #81

Conspiracy Theories

Editor: Christopher Brennan
The internet is a big place, with remote corners where feelings of alienation morph into twisted explanations of what is “really” going on in the world. This week’s Digest explores the concept of conspiracy theories, from QAnon in the U.S. to COVID-related conspiracies around the globe that are making the leap to the “real world” of politics and public health. While there are always worries about giving oxygen to misinformation, the subject also presents a chance to show off an aspect of the Deepnews Scoring Model. By focusing on quality, these articles steer away from dramatizing the theories and hopefully lead to understanding about why and how they are occurring.
Editor’s note
At we like the way our algorithm works better than those on social media focused on generating engagement, but we also think that our technology can be used to make social media a better place. We share many of the pieces our model highlights so follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
Published every Friday

Atlas Obscura

Explaining Our Obsession With the Unexplained

This story is excerpted and adapted from Colin Dickey’s new book, The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession With the Unexplained.

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Editor’s Note:

Part of understanding what motivates conspiracy theories is looking back at previous fringe groups. Here Colin Dickey, in a chapter from his book, looks backwards as well as at the idea of “disenchantment” with the modern world. – Christopher Brennan, Editor


#QAnon, the scarily popular pro-Trump conspiracy theory, explained

Followers of the conspiracy theory QAnon believe a lot of things. There’s never been chaos in the Donald Trump White House. The stories are just cover to let Trump, and, at one time, special counsel Robert Mueller, do their work to expose thousands of pedophiles hidden in plain sight — including Hillary Clinton…and Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, and Tom Hanks, and Chrissy Teigen. They’ll soon be under arrest or perhaps they are already on their way to Guantanamo Bay. Their crimes? Torturing and murdering children and then harvesting a chemical from their blood.

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The Spokesman-Review

Shawn Vestal: Tale of Bundy and his melon highlights this sick, but silly, season in conspiracy world

It’s been a season of extra pungency in the pastures of the alt-reality-right.

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Tortoise Media

The scion who became a conspiracy king

Despite being the nephew of the 35th president and part of America’s most famous family, Kennedy Jr couldn’t persuade US senators to take seriously his concerns about thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative once used widely in childhood vaccines.

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Popular Information

The inside story of an alleged victim of “cancel culture”

The concept of “cancel culture” is a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing in popular usage around 2017. The idea is that groups of people, sometimes pejoratively referred to as the “woke mob,” demand punishment of individuals that offend their sensibilities.

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The Daily Beast

‘Adrenochrome’: QAnon’s Imaginary Drug Hollywood Is ‘Harvesting’ From Kids

Followers of the pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon believe Hollywood and Democratic elites take a psychedelic drug called Adrenochrome harvested from the fear of children.

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New York Times

What Is QAnon, the Viral Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory?

Explaining the “big tent conspiracy theory” that falsely claims that President Trump is facing down a shadowy cabal of Democratic pedophiles.

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Radio NZ

How does it feel to watch your parents become obsessed with false information about Bill Gates, microchips and 5G – and is there anything you can do to pull them out of the conspiracy theory rabbit hole?

How does it feel to watch your parents become obsessed with false information about Bill Gates, microchips and 5G – and is there anything you can do to pull them out of the conspiracy theory rabbit hole?

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Editor’s Note:

Conspiracy theories are not just abstract ideas floating around the world. Here Susan Strongman goes in-depth into the personal side of things and follows the story of a man dealing with his parents’ new beliefs. – Christopher Brennan, Editor.

The Guardian

Facebook’s latest purge of QAnon conspiracy theory pages unlikely to affect growing Australian following

Experts say Facebook’s latest purge of QAnon pages is unlikely to have a major impact on the growing Australian following of the conspiracy theory.

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Twitter claims increased enforcement of hate speech and abuse policies in last half of 2019

Twitter has given its biannual transparency reports a new home with today’s launch of the Twitter Transparency Center, which the company says was designed to make the reporting more easily understood and accessible. The launch was timed alongside the belated release of Twitter’s latest transparency report covering the second half of 2019. The company attributed the delay to the COVID-19 health crisis and its work in getting the new Transparency Center up and running. The report touts Twitter’s increasing efforts in enforcing its policies, including a 95% increase in accounts actioned for violating its abuse policy, a 47% increase in account locks and suspensions and a 54% increase in accounts actioned for violating hateful conduct policies, among others.

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The Dispatch

Marjorie Greene Is Already Causing Problems for the GOP

For more than a decade, Republican congressional leaders awkwardly attempted to distance themselves from Steve King, the nine-term congressman from Iowa who associated himself with several high-profile white nationalists, seemingly compared Mexican immigrants to “dirt,” and insinuated that non-Western civilizations haven’t made any significant “contributions” to society. After years of condemnations and awkward sidestepping, the GOP finally cut bait in 2020, funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to King’s primary challenger, Randy Feenstra, who unseated the 18-year incumbent on June 2. The party breathed a collective sigh of relief.

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Financial Times ($)

Why is the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement growing during a worldwide pandemic?

Greer McVay insists she is “not an anti-vaxxer — not at all”. She is up to date with her own immunisations and had her son vaccinated when he was a child. But she fears the development of a vaccine for coronavirus is being dangerously rushed, in part to improve Donald Trump’s prospects ahead of the presidential election in November.

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The contact tracers caring for America, even if the country doesn’t care

“There’s definitely some calls where you do really bond with the person you’re talking to.”

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NBC News

How QAnon rode the pandemic to new heights — and fueled the viral anti-mask phenomenon

In February, five months before she became known as “QAnon Karen,” there was no one more terrified of the coming pandemic than Melissa Rein Lively.

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Editor’s Note:

The QAnon conspiracy started before the pandemic, though has been accelerated by it. Here Ben Collins, one of the leading reporters on the subject, looks at how the group became a “centralized hub” of conspiracy. – Christopher Brennan, Editor.

Washington Examiner

Donald Trump’s acceptance of fringe activists is inexcusable

Like the Left, the Right has a fringe problem. Except now, certain fringe actors are becoming mainstream, and President Trump shares part of the blame.

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Wall Street Journal

QAnon Booms on Facebook as Conspiracy Group Gains Mainstream Traction

Groups espousing conspiracy theories associated with the group QAnon have exploded in popularity on Facebook Inc. and its Instagram unit since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a new analysis finds, a sign that the far-right network is gaining traction on mainstream social media.

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Coronavirus websites usually go over people’s heads, study finds

Excuse me? What’s that mean?

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San Diego Union Tribune

Racism, QAnon and ‘cold civil war’: Inside the 20,000-strong Defend East County Facebook group

A Facebook group that organized after a Black Lives Matter protest in La Mesa turned destructive has ballooned to more than 20,000 members.

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Editor’s Note:

While much of the reporting on this list takes a national perspective, conspiracy theories are also a local story. Here Andrew Dyer looks at the “Defend East County” group based east of San Diego. Christopher Brennan, Editor.

Al Jazeera

Coronavirus and conspiratorial dog-whistles return to New Zealand

Amid a new outbreak, New Zealand’s opposition is once again trying to leverage misinformation for political gain.

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Daily Dot

Why the sequel to a massive coronavirus conspiracy movie completely flopped

The first Plandemic video was a 26-minute deluge of coronavirus conspiracy theories, disinformation, anti-vaccine hysteria, false claims, fearmongering, grievance-airing, and absolutely terrible science. Naturally, it was a huge viral hit and got over 10 million views and shares, driving an already isolated and virus-weary American public straight into paranoia.

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