Why numbers of wappies, geeks and conspiracy theorists are increasing

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During the corona pandemic, the general public was able to become acquainted for the first time with the strange manifestations of wappies, crazies and conspiracy theorists. However, since the rise of social media over 15 years ago, online conspiracy ideologies have steadily grown in popularity and scope. On the other hand, conspiracy ideologies are timeless and have existed for as long as people have been telling stories.

Within this article, I explore some of the underlying causes of the worldwide growth of online conspiracy ideologies on the basis of five key concepts. Social complexity and collective mistrust can be regarded as the concrete fuel for conspiracy ideologies. While income and knowledge inequality, social crises and social media mainly provide the necessary oxygen for this.

I. Increasing complexity of the world around us

Within global societies that seem to be increasing in complexity, there may come a point for some individuals when they are no longer able or unwilling to handle the complexity of certain topics. The level of education and the capacity to deal with changes have a strong influence on such individual developments. On average, the lower educated and/or those who are less able to cope with change are more susceptible to succumbing to an increase in social complexity.

Individual tipping point

From a certain individual tipping point, some individuals may choose to turn their backs on the societal complexity and nuance on certain topics. After which they can then increasingly believe in their own subjective explanations or reasoning. This can, of course, also involve the subjective influences of persons or groups with which they strongly identify themselves.

Self-reinforcement is lurking

Such subjective statements or reasoning are likely to result in substantially less friction with their original, simpler or desired world and ideas. Because subjective statements or reasoning tend to reinforce themselves, what starts small and innocent can under certain circumstances grow into conspiracy thinking.

lower layers of society

Although a substantial portion of conspiracy theorists operate within the lowest strata of society, the appeal of original, simpler or desired world and ideas can potentially manifest itself within all strata of society. Generally speaking, however, the susceptibility to conspiracy thinking decreases with the rise in the social ladder.

II. Increasing collective distrust in politics and government

Collective mistrust is an important co-ingredient of the social complexity experienced. After all, societies have traditionally manifested themselves as extremely complex and dynamic. However, where people used to put their collective trust in church and community, nowadays more people seem to look for trust in politics and government.

Distrust leads to stress

When such collective trust is absent or permanently damaged, those individuals who are sensitive to it experience a concrete subjective increase in societal complexity. This is probably due to the increase in stress. In this way, collective distrust in politics and government can feed the perceived social complexity.

Under a magnifying glass

In an increasingly complex society, it is moreover more difficult for politicians and government to maintain this collective trust permanently or not to damage it from time to time. After all, there is always a loudly shouting group that believes that they are being wronged. In this sense, government actions are literally under a magnifying glass these days.

earth conspiracy

III. Increase in income and knowledge inequality

An increase in the gap between rich and poor undermines trust in politics and government and between population groups. This is due, among other things, to educational inequality and the far-reaching technocratisation of society. This can then also lead to a gap between the knowledge elite and ‘John with the cap’ and thus to an increase in collective distrust in science and the knowledge elite.

Distrust in science and knowledge elite

Such a collective distrust in science and the knowledge elite can actually feed the perceived social complexity. In addition, education, knowledge and collective trust are precisely the most important ingredients to put a stop to conspiracy ideologies in the first place.

IV. Social crisis upon crisis

Every social crisis brings the necessary people into personal problems. Usually these problems are financial in nature, either in principle or as a result of something. As a result of such problems, both the objective and the subjective complexity of one’s life world can greatly increase from one moment to the next. It will therefore come as little surprise that social crises generally lead to a considerable revival in the number of conspiracy theorists.

The fact that social crises generally strike harder within the lower strata of society reinforces the pre-existing susceptibility of this segment of the population to conspiracy ideologies.

V. Social media as a catalyst of collective distrust

In this respect, social media mainly act as a catalyst for collective distrust. The algorithms on social media mean that people mainly target like-minded people and their more extreme views are confirmed time and time again. The consequence of such individual information traps is that collective distrust can be magnified.

Prospects for the future

A logical conclusion based on the above exploration is that it is plausible that numbers of wappies, geeks and conspiracy theorists will continue to grow. Fake news, fake information and conspiracy ideologies are therefore one of the greatest challenges of our time.

[Fotocredits – artefacti & tookitook © Adobe Stock]

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