Undoubtedly everyone reading this, either in person or via some form of communication technology (probably the Internet), has been exposed to conspiracy theorists. While the Internet has brought with it many amazing innovations, it’s also unfortunately made spreading misinformation, lies and conspiracies easier than ever. My friends will sometimes ask me what the hardest part of my job is, and I usually tell them trying to keep hope for humanity after being exposed to as much of the ignorance and insanity I see people post online every single day. I’m not a medical psychologist, but I’m amazed at how many legitimately crazy people there are in this world out there roaming free among us.
Then again, I have to remind myself that this is the Internet, a place where crazy tends to flock to show itself off.
And while I know it’s really difficult to resist debating the unhinged, absurd conspiracy theorists and fanatics that often dominate comments sections of just about every article online, it’s pointless to even bother trying. A rule I live by is that it’s best not to try to reason with those who are unreasonable – though even I forget my own rule from time to time.
1. Conspiracy theorists and fanatics don’t think they’re conspiracy theorists or fanatics: It’s essentially impossible to convince someone that something they believe is idiotic and borderline insane (if not literally crazy) when they don’t actually think they’re someone who’s capable of buying into radical conspiracy theories. To them, what they believe is perfectly fine and rational.
2. They want to believe whatever nonsense they believe: Human beings are strange in that many claim they want to know the facts or the truth. However, the reality is, many simply seek out information that confirms what they want to believe is real, while dismissing anything that disproves something they want to believe. This is called confirmation bias, though it also dips into cognitive dissonance.
3. They surround themselves with other conspiracy theorists: You can talk to these people till you’re blue in the face and both their ears fall off. It usually won’t matter, because many conspiracy theorist seek out people who agree with them. Much like they do with “information” sources that confirm their bias, they also tend to surround themselves with other people who tell them that they’re not crazy and that everything they believe is true. It’s just “everyone else” who’s ignorant and manipulated by (fill in the blank: media, the government, the illuminati, aliens… whatever).
4. Conspiracy theorists aren’t typically reasonable people, which is why they believe in conspiracies in the first place: This goes along with my “rule.” By their very nature, conspiracy theorists are unreasonable, that’s what makes them conspiracy theorists. It’s not as if rational, logical people are buying into ridiculous beliefs involving very elaborate plots that sound like something straight from a James Bond movie. Typically, rational and logical people hear something, think about what’s being said, then quickly realize how ludicrous it would be to believe that could possibly be true. Whereas conspiracy theorists want to believe this (See #2), so when they hear something outrageous that confirms their paranoid delusions, they never think twice about trusting it because (See #2) it’s what they want to be real.
5. They’ll dismiss any information you present them to debunk their conspiracies as — part of the conspiracy: And this is really the kicker right here. If someone or a group of people want to believe something, no matter what you show them or what sources you use, they’re going to believe that they’re all a part of the conspiracy against… whatever it is that they believe. It won’t matter if you show them fact checks, elaborate statistical breakdowns or even concrete evidence that something they believe isn’t true — they’ll just say it’s part of the “conspiracy against the truth.”
You can try all you want, but you’ll almost never get a conspiracy theorist to admit that something they want to believe is actually not true. So, while I know it’s really tempting to engage these people because they’re the ones who often make the most ridiculous and bombastic claims, you’re really just wasting your time trying to use facts and reality to reason with people who don’t care about facts or reality.