Recently someone responded to a blog I wrote admonishing me for assuming a conspiracy where none existed. My response was to apologize for not being as clear as possible. I was not proposing a conspiracy but rather a “go along to get along” mentality. That exchange, which ended amicably as far as I can tell, came to mind when I ran across the image below.
My immediate thought was that everyone reading this would think something different. For example, someone who watches Fox News or listens to conservative talk radio would think one thing. A fan of late-night television personalities or CNN might see something else.
The same could be true of a devout Christian and an atheist. For that matter, any two strong-willed people with opposite views, politically, socially, or religiously might see posts like this differently.
Then, I pulled up the homepage for the entity sharing the meme. It is possible to interpret almost all the posts I reviewed as ambiguous, open to interpretation, or propaganda. As one might expect, comments, threads, or whatever one wishes to call the various dialogues illustrated one perspective or another. Now, one might ask, is this part of a conspiracy?
Is this a group of people coming together to sow discord or taint the thinking of those around them? Or is it the brainchild of someone simply finding amusement by pulling others’ chains? The problem with answering this question is complex.
First, if you remember the so-called telephone game, you know distortion of a communicated idea does not require a conspiracy or even conscious intent. It simply requires people willing to repeat things they heard or think they heard without verifying their understanding.
For instance, I hear something and repeat it to you based on my worldview or understanding. You hear what I say based on your worldview and experience. You share it with someone else, and they share what they think they heard.
Every time the information is shared, it changes. In some cases, by the time it comes back to the person who first shared the information, they cannot believe how distorted it is.
The problem today is that one person can share something such as the item above, and thousands of people will be able to read and interpret it based on their worldview, understanding, and biases. Then they can share it, or their understanding of it, with hundreds or thousands of others.
The bottom line is this. Conspiracies1 still exist, but they are no longer required to spread fear, bigotry, and propaganda. Social media lets people do that without breaking a sweat.
1For clarity’s sake, conspiracy here is not used in the criminal sense, which requires some level of criminal intent. Conspiracy through social media is often more akin to groupthink or trolling.
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