There are a proliferation of conspiracy out there from Pizzagate to the Sandy Hook mass shooting and even to the usefulness of vaccinations, but why do people keep buying into them? History shows that we’ve always bought into them and even with the ability to fact-check via the internet at our fingertips, we will continue believing in far-fetched ideas. In 68 AD, conspiracy theories abounded when the Roman emperor, Nero, committed suicide, with many believing he faked his own death and was still secretly alive. And today, many people believe Tupac Shakur is alive and well somewhere despite pictures of his dead body on a slab. Conspiracies have always been a part of who we are and we enjoy partaking in them because we feel as we are privy to something that is forbidden. So why do we forgo logic to believe things that have no proof?
One of the most recent conspiracy theories is the Save the Children movement that is spreading like wildfire on the internet and in the hearts of parents everywhere with little regard to the truth. The conspiracy theory states that there is a cabal of powerful individuals who are abducting and trafficking our children into sex-slavery. That would be enough to strike fear into any mother, but where is the proof? While any child can be targeted by traffickers, research has shown that abductors actually target children with increased vulnerabilities such as those who are runaways, those who have experienced previous sexual abuse or rape, or those who have been stigmatized by their family. However, when you bring up these facts, those who ardently argue against you say it doesn’t matter because children are still being trafficked. While it is true that this is happening, the likelihood that this will happen to your child are slim, but it doesn’t stop people from protecting the conspiracy theory.
When confronted with statistics such as an estimated 460,000 children are reported missing every year and 49% are kidnappings by family members, 27% are by acquaintances, and 27% are by strangers, those who strongly believe in the validity of the conspiracy theories then attack the other side and accuse them of not caring about the children who are kidnapped. In actuality, they are now living in fear of something that will most likely never happen. Fear-mongering can lead to devastating outcomes as a recent post advocated for not wearing masks during the pandemic in order to protect children against trafficking. Children are more at risk of being molested by family members than they are to be abducted and sold into sexual slavery. These are facts. The issue is that when you argue with someone who believes in a conspiracy theory, they don’t deal in facts. They deal in emotions. And people believe in their emotions over actual facts because they feel so strongly about then. They may feel so strongly that they may break into a pizza store with a gun demanding to see the children. Facts are nuggets of truth, but rather or not people believe them is something different. Their beliefs are predicated on how they feel about the situation, not actual facts. If they feel strongly, they will ignore facts to bolster their cause.
We love conspiracy theories not because we are uneducated, but because we choose to ignore facts. Conspiracy theories allow us to take up the perceived mantle of a cause that we feel strongly about. We believe it because belief is not about facts, but ideas. If you can believe in God without any proof, you can see how others may believe in conspiracy theories without proof. When we live in a society where we feel as if we have little power and no voice, the idea of a conspiracy theory lends credence to our small voice that echoes in a chamber. When we find others like us, we feel as if we are a movement because we may have no real agency in our lives. This gives us the courage to advocate for change for things that don’t exist. In the end, it makes us feel powerful. We feel as if we are in on a big secret that others are not aware of and we are privileged because of it. We forgo facts because they risk toppling our house of cards.
So how does one go about disarming these conspiracy theories if the believers are ready to pounce on you? With compassion. If you come with facts, they will try to shout over you and become indignant in their rage, but if you move with kindness, it dispels their ideas of who the opposition is. Compassion cannot be shown in every situation, but when you can, it will make a big difference in your interactions with people who choose to remain misinformed.