Conspiracy Theories and Social Media -
Pakistan Press Foundation

Conspiracy Theories and Social Media

Pakistan Press Foundation

The interplay of electronic and social media has become so intense that it is no more possible to ward off the severity of its impact. Social media in particular has become a bane to traditionally accepted patterns of social conduct and behaviour and the new challenges faced by them virtually appear to be insurmountable.

This phenomenon has seriously jeopardised the very nature of credibility complicating personal and social relationships to a degree that is unprecedented in content. The current rumpus in the country is primarily due to the widely exaggerated influence exerted by the social media tentacles that proved extremely potent in fueling unrest over issues that appear completely unrelated to the economic issues faced by the country.

Like any other place, Pakistan is also susceptible to conspiracy theories but their impact is calculated to be manipulated by the segments that have an axe to grind and they are immune to any accountability mechanism. The relationship between conspiracy theories and social media is gradually proving to be very crucial in Pakistan and it is damaging the credibility of the socio-political fabric of the country.

While reflecting on this matter it is imperative to bear in mind that human existence is untenable from the beginning to the end as human nature is conditioned to see lurking danger in every aspect of life.

This unseen danger gives birth to conspiracy theories that are an unconscious reflection of human insecurity. Conspiracy theories are, therefore, as old as the human presence on this planet and they have become very valuable material for social media. It is only recently that psychologists have started to delve deep into the labyrinthine movement of the human thought process that gives birth to conspiracy theories.

It is often conjectured that conspiracy theories are explanations for the psychological discomfort a group of people face in believing a given fact. The classic case of conspiracy theories is the unending probe into factors resulting in the assassination of US President Kennedy. That the impact of conspiracy theories lingers on for a very long period is borne out by exceptional interest taken in the release of cryptic pages of Kennedy’s assassination half a century ago. The search though did not prove anything conclusive but the abiding interest in the matter fails to die down.

In this context, it is also pointed out that there is no dearth of people who perpetrate and believe in a conspiracy theory attached to climate change. A wide circle believes that deliberate policies were followed by developed states to bring about climate change so that the rest of the world remains dependent on their technological superiority and this issue is widely propagated on social media portals proving to be almost impossible to contain.

It is not very clear yet as to why a segment of the population believes, and even thrives, on conspiracy theories. They summarize the characteristics associated with a person who is likely to believe in conspiracy theories as openness to experience, distrust, low agreeability, and certain twists of mental ability. Someone with low agreeability is an individual who is usually not very dependable, kind, or cooperative.

The prevalence of social media content dealing with controversial matters is quite evident that mental twist is equated with Machiavellianism compelling an individual to exclusively focus on his interests and may not shy away from manipulating, deceiving, and exploiting others to achieve his objectives.

In terms of cognitive processes, people with stronger conspiracy beliefs are more likely to overestimate the likelihood of co-occurring events to attribute intentionality where it is unlikely to exist and to have lower levels of analytic thinking. This aspect is widely exploited by the minds manipulating social media and their angular approach hardly fails to hit its target giving credence to what they want to portray.

There is said to be a certain correlation between a person’s need for uniqueness and a belief in conspiracy theories. Individuals suffering from a high need for uniqueness are more likely than others to endorse conspiracy beliefs because conspiracy theories represent the possession of unconventional and potentially scarce information.

The spice is added to conspiracy theories by relying on narratives that refer to secret knowledge or information, which, by definition, is not accessible to everyone, otherwise it would not be a secret and it would be a well-known fact.

Consequently, people who believe in conspiracy theories feel special in a positive sense because they feel more informed than others about important social and political events. Individual narcissism or a grandiose idea of the self is positively related to belief in conspiracy theories. Interestingly paranoid thought mediates the relationship between individual narcissism and conspiracy beliefs. The need for uniqueness could be an additional mediator of this relationship.

It has been often observed that individuals endorsing conspiracy theories are likely to be higher in powerlessness and social isolation and such disengagement from normative social order results in greater conspiratorial thinking for several related reasons.

Individuals who feel alienated may consequently reject conventional explanations of events, as they reject the legitimacy of the source of these explanations. When such alienation occurs conspiracy theorists turn to groups prone to conspiracy for a sense of belonging and community, or to marginalised subcultures in which conspiracy theories are potentially rifer. Somehow people falling for conspiracy theories syndrome attain a sense of meaning, security, and control over an unpredictable and dangerous world.

Conspiracy beliefs usually imply a level of twisted reasoning and power enacted by those without fixed morality and such beliefs are likely to resonate with people who feel powerless and believe that society lacks norms. Unstable self-esteem breeding self-uncertainty is also a characteristic associated with a greater likelihood to believe in conspiracy theories. People who feel an acute sense of lack of belongingness are often more prone to accepting conspiracy theories. Almost everyone associated with conspiracy theory syndrome is rational but suffers from acute paranoia.

Once confronted with contrarian factual evidence the sufferer dismisses both the evidence and the person who brings it. The cause of such discrepancy is that conspiracy theories are driven by people who tend to believe in their veracity and not in the factual support or logical reasoning of the theory itself.

For times to come conspiracy theories are going to stay particularly in Pakistan where levels of veracity are hard to find and where twisting facts is a national characteristic. Pakistan suffers a duality of purpose on every level and it is very easy to sell a conspiracy theory here. The gradual dominance of social media has resulted in the manifold rise of conspiracy theories about every aspect of Pakistani politics. In this scenario, it is not surprising to note that social media portals are utilized by the elements that desire to keep instability intact within the country so that their dominance remains unchallenged. The state authorities need to become more vigilant about the matter so that this tendency is curbed as much as possible.

It is however advisable to look at things more critically and avoid falling for fantastic interpretations of very normal events. It is essential to view matters dispassionately as social media will not desist on its own to spread conspiracy theories

Source: ARY News

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