The panel included an array of experts and academics with multiple years of expertise on researching and discussing conspiracy theories and their effects on American political discourse.
These included Dr. Bob Baskiewicz who spoke on the Denver airport conspiracy, Dr. Eve Siebert who spoke on the Phantom Time conspiracy, and Dr. Brian Regal on the history of scholarship around Cryptids.
The panel went through the history of these various theories, including historical scholarship and explanations about the appeal of these theories, as well as how belief becomes widespread at all.
“Conspiracy theories don’t obey the ordinary standards for evidence,” said Baskiewicz. “The lack of evidence itself is seen as proof that there must in fact something larger going on, which is obviously super frustrating.”
Tynion himself took aim against these conspiracies and more, citing a long history of research that went into the initial creation of The Department of Truth.
“I started researching for this book in 2017, and I knew about QAnon very early on — before it was mainstream,” Tynion said. “Obviously it subsequently reemerged in a big way in the last year. It’s hard to put commentary on an actively forming organism.”
Tynion also spoke out strongly on how current technology and social media play a large role in the formation of conspiracy theories through the spread of disinformation.
“The way information is being allowed to spread online and the way algorithmic based systems like Facebook and YouTube is insidious. It’s a really big problem for all of us.”
The panel explained how these ubiquitous technologies have become dangerous “radicalization machines” which can end up leading ordinary people to take grave, extreme actions. This ties in closely with what Tynion calls the core theme of The Department Truth: the idea of flexibility of belief being able to shape actual reality.
“That’s what these platforms do,” Tynion said. “They take the things you are interested in and believe in, and they hit you with it over and over. It’s horrifying.”
Despite his generally cheerful demeanor, Tynion describes himself as generally cynical about the state of our current moment.
I am definitely a cynic in terms of how society works right now. I wasn’t surprised that this is where we ended up. Frightened, but not surprised.”
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