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  • Conspiracy theory

    A conspiracy theory is the fear of a nonexistent or alleged conspiracy or the unnecessary assumption of conspiracy when other explanations are more probable. Evidence showing it to be false, or the absence of proof of the conspiracy, is interpreted by believers as evidence of its truth, thus insulating it from refutation.

    Robert Blaskiewicz notes examples of the term were used as early as the nineteenth century and states that its usage has always been derogatory. Lance deHaven-Smith suggested that the term entered everyday language in the United States after 1964, the year in which the Warren Commission shared its findings, with The New York Times running five stories that year using the term.

    A conspiracy theory may take any matter as its subject, but certain subjects attract greater interest than others. Favored subjects include famous deaths, government activities, new technologies, terrorism, and questions of alien life. Among the longest-standing and most widely recognized conspiracy theories are notions concerning the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 1969 Apollo moon landings and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as numerous theories pertaining to alleged plots for world domination by various groups both real and imaginary.

    Conspiracy theories are widely present on the Web in the form of blogs and YouTube videos, as well as on social media. Whether the Web has increased the prevalence of conspiracy theories or not is an open research question. The presence and representation of conspiracy theories in search engine results has been monitored and studied, showing significant variation across different topics, and a general absence of reputable, high-quality links in the results.

    Belief in conspiracy theories is generally not based in evidence, but in the faith of the believer. Noam Chomsky contrasts conspiracy theory to institutional analysis which focuses mostly on the public, long-term behavior of publicly known institutions, as recorded in, for example, scholarly documents or mainstream media reports. Conspiracy theory conversely posits the existence of secretive coalitions of individuals and speculates on their alleged activities.

    Justin Fox of Time magazine is of the opinion that Wall Street traders are among the most conspiracy-minded group of people, and ascribes this to the reality of some financial market conspiracies, and to the ability of conspiracy theories to provide necessary orientation in the market's day-to-day movements. He believes as well that most good investigative reporters are also conspiracy theorists.

    Theologian Robert Jewett and philosopher John Shelton Lawrence attribute the enduring popularity of conspiracy theories in the U.S. to the Cold War, McCarthyism, and counterculture rejection of authority. They state that among both the left-wing and right-wing there remains a willingness to use real events, such as Soviet plots, inconsistencies in the Warren Report, and the 9/11 attacks, to support the existence of unverified ongoing large-scale conspiracies.

    Humanistic psychologists argue that even if a posited cabal behind an alleged conspiracy is almost always perceived as hostile, there often remains an element of reassurance for theorists. This is because it is a consolation to imagine that difficulties in human affairs are created by humans, and remain within human control. If a cabal can be implicated, there may be a hope of breaking its power or of joining it. Belief in the power of a cabal is an implicit assertion of human dignity—an unconscious affirmation that man is responsible for his own destiny.

    Conspiracy theories may be emotionally satisfying, by assigning blame to a group to which the theorist does not belong and so absolving the theorist of moral or political responsibility in society. Likewise, Roger Cohen writing for The New York Times has said that, "captive minds; ... resort to conspiracy theory because it is the ultimate refuge of the powerless. If you cannot change your own life, it must be that some greater force controls the world.

    Barkun has adopted this term to refer to how the synthesis of paranoid conspiracy theories, which were once limited to American fringe audiences, has given them mass appeal and enabled them to become commonplace in mass media, thereby inaugurating an unrivaled period of people actively preparing for apocalyptic or millenarian scenarios in the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Barkun notes the occurrence of lone-wolf conflicts with law enforcement acting as proxy for threatening the established political powers.