by William Hernandez
Did you know that Earth isn’t round but actually flat? And what surrounds this massive land we call home is a giant, 150-foot ice wall that keeps us from falling off the edge? At least, those are some of the theories that self-proclaimed “Flat Earthers” believe. Then there’s the small part of the internet on social media that believes dinosaurs never existed—that they’re just a lie made up to cash in on a craze over ancient exotic animals. And then there are the mountains of conspiracies surrounding 9/11. These theories may sound crazy to some, but they are more than simply conjecture to believers—they’re truths. Why are people so attracted to theories that seem outlandish and insane to many others? Are those who believe conspiracy theories simply crazy, or does this phenomena speak to something greater in our society? Maybe people turn to conspiracies in hopes of obtaining a hold on a world that they feel is slipping from them because of the bombardment of news that makes them feel like control is impossible to attain.
Our world can seem like it’s getting bigger than we can fathom because of the large stream of news and tragedies pushed down our throats wherever we turn. On social media sites Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat there are news sections built into them. On Twitter, for example, there’s a “Moments” tab at the bottom of the screen which leads to an entire page dedicated to whatever big news is breaking at that moment. While it is good to be aware of current events, it can get overwhelming. Whether it’s a shooting happening across the country, or a bombing somewhere in Europe or the Middle East, all of it is streamlined and thrown onto Twitter—which is used by approximately sixty-eight million people—to drown us in misery. This constant surge of information sometimes makes us feel small, as if the world is in complete chaos, crumbling around us. This leads people to conspiracies that may or may not be rooted in truth.
Are all their proponents stereotypical basement dwellers that scour the web for the newest conspiracy theory dopamine hits? Not quite. Just look at the big-name celebrities who have dipped their hands in the conspiracy jar, giving a sort of credibility and normalization to these theories that they’ve never had before. In 2017, NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving revealed on the Road Trippin’ Crew Podcast that he has suspicions about the shape of our planet. He said, “What I’ve been taught is that the earth is round. But if you really think about it from a landscape of the way we travel, the way we move and the fact that, can you really think of us rotating around the sun and all planets aligned, rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what’s going on with these planets?” Irving isn’t definitively saying Earth is flat, but him questioning that fact plants enough doubt in the minds of his fans to cause a ripple effect. For example—as NPR reported—there was a student that told his middle school teacher that he believes the Earth is flat and that he got the idea from Irving. It may be just one person at one school, but it is a microcosm of the effect that celebrities have by normalizing conspiracy theories. Even Stepen Curry has come out recently and spoken about his doubt that the moon landings ever happened. As more and more athletes are less afraid to speak out, expect to see these theories gain even more traction.
Then, in the world of music, there’s former Blink-182 singer Tom DeLonge who has his own share of hot takes. DeLonge has always been a believer in aliens (as if Blink’s song “Alien’s Exist” isn’t proof enough), but in recent years—now that he’s no longer in the band—he’s used much of his free time to spread his ideas about UFOs, aliens, and other extraterrestrial secrets he believes the government is hiding from us. In 2017 he was named “UFO Researcher of the Year” by OpenMinds.tv, and made an appearance on the podcast the Joe Rogan Experience to talk for two hours with Rogan about all his theories concerning aliens, and how he has made it a mission to spread his beliefs through books, movies, and other mediums. DeLonge, though not as well known as Irving, also has a giant group of fans that are willing to give his ideas a chance because they were fans of his music. What’s to stop an impressionable Blink-182 fan from coming across DeLonge’s work and believing it? It may not matter whether or not DeLonge’s theories are true, because, as long as he has an audience, his ideas will be picked up and propagated.
As conspiracy theories get picked up by more people and celebrities with large followings, the bigger the market and potential audience becomes for conspiracy talk. There’s no greater example of hunger for conspiracy than the theories surrounding a 1992 United Nations action-plan document titled Agenda 21. The 300-page document is a plan on how countries should move forward regarding wildlife, natural resources, climate, the economy, and how to best manage society in the 21stcentury. Over the past decade or so, there has been huge skepticism regarding Agenda 21 by major political groups and pundits, such as the Tea Party and commentator Glenn Beck. These skeptics argue that Agenda 21 is authoritarianism in disguise which looks to undermine the state, and get rid of private property. They also believe Agenda 21wants to lower population by getting all the countries in the UN to adopt and follow the ideas outlined in the document. There’s a palpable craving across the net for content on these types of dystopian theories. I have a hard time not wondering if people are simply looking for a way to get some control back into their lives by believing these theories and claiming they know what the government and other institutions are secretly up to.
Whether they’re about Agenda 21, Flat Earth, extraterrestrial government coverups, or 9/11, conspiracy theories all have in common a theme of forbidden knowledge. By claiming to know the truth behind tragedies, or claiming that we are being lied to by the government, people gain some control over a world that otherwise seems unstable. And, honestly, who could blame them? Could there be some truth in the theories and speculation? Maybe. But there could also be a lot of misinformation that we are clinging onto, hoping for it to be true so that the world begins to make a little more sense.