Do Your Own Research: Conspiracy Theories and the Internet

Clare Birchall, Peter Knight

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Abstract

What difference has the internet made to conspiracy theories? In the wake of recent episodes in the United States—from birtherism to the “big lie,” from QAnon to the COVID-19 “infodemic,” and from the “great replacement” to the “great reset”—the default assumption is that the internet has created an unprecedented spread of conspiracy theories. It seems commonsense that the internet in general, and social media in particular, has increased the volume and virality of conspiracy theories, leading to fears that polarized conspiracism threatens to undermine trust in impartial media, objective science, and even democracy itself. But is that actually the case? If some commentators have raised the alarm that the internet has changed everything in the realm of conspiracism, others have adopted the contrarian position that the internet has changed nothing. Neither claim is ultimately convincing. What this essay will make clear is the necessity of asking different kinds of research questions to understand how the internet has shaped the form and function, the production and consumption, and the causes and consequences of conspiracy narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-605
JournalSocial Research: An International Quarterly
Volume89
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022

Keywords

  • Conspiracy theories
  • internet

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