Conspiracy theories destroying democracy? Yeah, well that’s what they’d want you to think.
The more information we have about what governments and corporations are up to the less we seem to trust them. Will conspiracy theories eventually destroy democracy?
What if I told you I had conclusive proof that the moon landings were faked, but I had been told to keep it under wraps by my BBC bosses acting under orders from the CIA, NSA and MI6. Most of you would think I had finally lost my mind.
But, for some, that scenario – a journalist working for a mainstream media organisation being manipulated by shadowy forces to keep vital information from the public – would seem entirely plausible, or even likely.
We live in a golden age for conspiracy theories. There is a growing assumption that everything we are told by the authorities is wrong, or not quite as it seems. That the truth is being manipulated or obscured by powerful vested interests.
And, in some cases, it is.
“The reason we have conspiracy theories is that sometimes governments and organisations do conspire,” says Observer columnist and academic John Naughton.
It would be wrong to write off all conspiracy theorists as “swivel-eyed loons,” with “poor personal hygiene and halitosis,” he told a Cambridge University Festival of Ideas debate.
They are not all “crazy”. The difficult part, for those of us trying to make sense of a complex world, is working out which parts of the conspiracy theory to keep and which to throw away.