6 Things You Need to Know About Conspiracy Theories {Bias Day 22}

Conspiracy theories are having a heyday during the pandemic.

  • What do we need to know about them?
  • How can we protect ourselves against believing a conspiracy theory?
  • How can we help others who have fallen for one? 

6 Things to Know About Conspiracy Theories

Here are 6 things you need to understand about conspiracy bias and conspiracy theories. 

1. What is conspiracy bias?

Conspiracy bias is our vulnerability to believe a sinister story (usually an undercover plot by malicious conspirators) to explain an event or circumstance despite more reasonable explanations otherwise. A conspiracy theory is often thought to be so important that it has to be kept secret from the general public.

Although a conspiracy theory isn’t wrong by default, it is usually discredited because of insufficient evidence.

2. What’s an example of a conspiracy theory?

There’s no shortage of examples of conspiracy theories from 2020, such as:

  • Is COVID-19 a hoax?
  • Was the virus intentionally spread as a bioweapon?
  • Do the vaccines contain microchips to track us?

There is no evidence for any of those theories. They are false. Perhaps they’ll fade away sooner rather than later.

But several conspiracy theories have been popular for decades in the United States and show no signs of slowing down. 

For example, who really killed President John F. Kennedy in 1963? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? 

Multiple conspiracy theories have also arisen around Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Was there a government contingency involved? 

Smaller but lingering conspiracy theories include things like UFO coverups and Bigfoot sightings.

Since 2017 the QAnon conspiracy theory has gained a mass following, as well as spawning a host of related conspiracies to coincide with it.

3. Why are we susceptible to conspiracy theories?

Every people group has proven to be susceptible to conspiracy theories, both right and left, rich and poor, old and young.

Why? Conspiracy theories meet our psychological need to understand the world, especially when we’re feeling powerless and threatened, as in times of crisis or chaos in society (hello, 2020).

“People don’t like it when things are really random. Randomness is more threatening than having an enemy. You can prepare for an enemy, you can’t prepare for coincidences.”

But particularly troubling in Christian communities is the mounting evidence that Americans who engage in Christian nationalism are also much more likely to engage in conspiracy theories.  

In general, people want someone to blame. So we connect with stories that give us answers and cast others as the villain, but cast us as either the innocent victim or the valiant hero. We crave the sense of belongingness and safety we get with others who are believing the same things.

A conspiracy theory, in an odd way, is more comforting to its adherents than reality is. It offers an easier-to-understand explanation (even though it usually takes several rabbit holes to reach it).

“Conspiracy theories look bitter to those on the outside, but they are sweet to those who hold them.”

4. Why is it dangerous to believe conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories throw up obstacles wherever they land.

  • Health-related conspiracy theories discourage people from getting proper medical care.
  • Government-related conspiracy theories can provoke aggression and even violence.
  • Even common office-related conspiracy theories among coworkers can lower job satisfaction and increase stress.

Conspiracy theories can also draw resources away from valid endeavors. They can ultimately lead to new crises, disease outbreaks, extremist groups, and economic downfalls.

As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

When taken to the extreme, conspiracy theories destroy relationships and ruin lives. 

5. How can we reduce conspiracy theories?

“Prebunking” now is a better technique than “debunking” later.

“Engaging in critical thinking before sharing or believing information that has been shared can stop the spread of misinformation.”

Take measures to discredit conspiracy theories before believing them.

  • Seek facts from a variety of sources.
  • Countercheck stories that seem hard to believe.
  • Stay connected with others through stable relationships.
  • Seek help when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. 
  • Don’t spread internet rumors based on shaky evidence.

If you know someone who believes a conspiracy theory, begin with respect. Making fun of another’s beliefs, no matter how absurd they sound to us, is no way to gain their trust. Don’t accuse them of being wrong or ignorant or weak, and especially not in a public setting.

Acknowledge their emotional attachment to the theory. Often the theories are based on stories of right versus wrong, good versus evil. Don’t attack their core values; talk about their facts instead. Even then, don’t expect immediate results with your facts when they have facts of their own.

Ask questions and listen to their theory to find common ground. Determine what it would take to change their mind. Value the relationship above the disagreement.

Be patient. Most believers of conspiracy theories have no intention of changing their minds. Until they’re willing to question their own assumptions, they likely won’t accept your debunking efforts.

But if you maintain a trusting relationship, when they are ready to talk, you’ll be there to help them walk away from the theory.

6. How did Jesus handle conspiracy theories?

During Jesus’s time on earth, his Jewish followers were a prime audience for conspiracy theories. They were victims of a cruel Roman regime that often left them feeling hopeless and defeated.

But Jesus provided them with a better story, a true story.

Instead of blaming their dashed hopes on the Roman government, throwing them into a victim role, or demanding they rise up and defeat the enemy, taking on a hero role, he pointed them toward a loving Father who cared about them.

And he told them to care for each other (even their enemies).

His bright story was the light they needed.

And it still is. When others around us feel helpless, hopeless, and afraid, we can remind them there is a bigger story of love to believe in. God empowers us to help heal our world through unity and compassion, not suspicion and cynicism.

That’s no conspiracy. That’s grace.

Want more? Visit the World Economic Forum article, Conspiracy theories have flourished during the pandemic – here’s how to stop them in their tracks. 

Click on this infographic from the World Economic Forum to learn more.

What are conspiracy theories

Source: World Economic Forum

Have you once believed a conspiracy theory? How did you break free? Do you have a friend or relative now who believes one? Please share in the comments.

You are on Day 22 of the series: “How to Uncover Hidden Biases.”

Uncover Hidden Biases

Previous: Scripture Image {Bias Day 21}
“What Are You Looking At?”

Next: Confidence Bias {Bias Day 23}
“They’re So Confident, They Must Be Right”

11 thoughts on “6 Things You Need to Know About Conspiracy Theories {Bias Day 22}

  1. Martha J Orlando

    I’m not one for conspiracy theories, Lisa, and always like to research many avenues to find facts that actually hold up to what is true in reality. I sure can see, though, why these are so appealing to so many.

  2. Anita Ojeda

    Hmmm, did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? I wasn’t even alive back then, but I question it ;). And I consider myself pretty immune to most conspiracy theories out there. I wish I knew how to help comfort those whose lives seem traumatized by all the conspiracy theories they believe in.

  3. Hiby

    Conspiracy theories are usually “juicier” and more “interesting” than facts …

    I do enjoy the conspiracy theories a little more than the usual “facts” that were thrown to us. And often, you may see some countries adopting a certain theory/explanation over another. So maybe the theories are all correct to a certain extend, just what suits your situation more?

    But no way am I going to turn down vaccination over them!

    Just my 2 cents. :p

  4. Lynn

    You’ve nailed this well, Lisa! Conspiracy theories come from our needing and wanting a sense of control in our lives. Once we hold onto a fact, even when other information comes in that challenges that fact, we’ll search for ways to try to prove our theory true, instead of listening to reason. I’ve even kept googling long after I’ve been wrong just to see if I can find at least one source that says what I think is true! lol! You’ve wrapped this up well in showing Jesus’ way to handle conspiracy theories.

  5. Heather

    Good points. But I think this issue is more complicated than that. I think “conspiracy theory” has been used by people as a label to mock and discredit those who disagree with them and their agenda. We’ve been trained to react to the words “conspiracy theory” with disdain, to discredit these ideas from the get-go. This makes it easier to control people and to prevent opposing voices from being taken seriously. It’s like a tactic taken right out of a cult’s handbook on how to brainwash people.

    And some people believe conspiracy theories not because of a psychological need, but because they have done enough research to know to question “the powers that be,” to not blindly believe what some government group or scientist group tells them to believe. They’ve learned there are agendas behind much of what we are told, reasons to not trust it, that things aren’t always what they seem, and they seek to expose it.

    When there are two opposing voices, both with “evidence” to back them up, then who gets to decide which is right and which is wrong? Why should the one labelled “conspiracy” automatically be thrown out, just because the other side called it a conspiracy? What if both sides called the other a “conspiracy”? Who wins then?

    I’m not sharing this to support conspiracy theories but to promote more critical thinking and to balance out your idea that conspiracy theories are automatically dangerous and wrong and should be discredited from the beginning. While I agree that it’s dangerous to blindly believe conspiracy theories, I also believe it’s dangerous to blindly trust “the other side,” to let them manipulate us with words like “conspiracy theory,” convincing us to immediately discredit other ideas without giving them some real thought.

    I agree with you that we need to seek facts from a variety of sources and countercheck stories and that we need to not spread things that are based on shaky evidence. But we should be doing this not to, as you say, discredit these theories (which is having a bias from the beginning about which is right and which is wrong, and it will taint your research and conclusions) but to find out what the truth really is (as far as we can know it, so that we can take an educated stand on one side or the other), even if it means the conspiracy theory is proven right. Just some ideas to encourage us to think for ourselves and to use more critical thinking skills. God bless!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you shared your thoughts here, Heather. This is a complicated issue. We can barely scratch the surface in a single post so my apologies for a seeming lack of depth. And I definitely make no claim to be an expert on it. 🙂

      Even the definition of “conspiracy theory” needs more explanation. While I did state in the post that “a conspiracy theory isn’t wrong by default,” most of the theories lumped into the “conspiracy” category are there because of lack of agreed-upon evidence. Those may be different than the type you mentioned: theories that have indeed been researched. The latter may result in a difference of opinion but not need to be labeled a conspiracy theory per se.

      There are no easy answers. We just keep seeking truth as best as we each can. As you said, “thinking for ourselves and using more critical thinking skills” is important. So is having conversations like this! Thanks for weighing in.

      1. Heather

        Thank you for your reply, Lisa. It helps explain where you are coming from with your post. I think we can sometimes write with particular examples in mind, knowing in our head what we are referring to, but it doesn’t always come across clearly (one of the pitfalls of writing our thoughts, as opposed to talking to someone). Like you suggest, it probably has more to do with different definitions of and experiences with what constitutes a “conspiracy.” And that’s pretty much my point in my reply. Different views of “conspiracy” and the evidence for or against the different sides will cause us to come to different conclusions. And neither side is necessarily automatically right or wrong just because of a label or because some “professional” says to believe it. But like you referred to, this is more for those differing opinions where both sides are researched and have support, not about those far-fetched “conspiracy theories” that don’t have a leg to stand on and that persist in spite of all evidence. (And yet, even then, that can be hard to discern, depending on what information we encounter.) Sorry if I read into your post something you weren’t saying. God bless!

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          Yep, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think: “I didn’t explain that right in my post; maybe I should delete it all!” lol. We assume people know our starting points too, and who can know that? I always appreciate grace. 🙂 Thanks for giving it.

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