Youth, Conspiracy Theorists and Social Media

By Raymond Viger

I am at a provincial journalists’ meeting. We end up on the stormy topic of fake news and the credibility given to anything that appears on social media.

Several journalists decry how young people are gullible and only believe what social media has to say. Happily, I am accompanied by two young journalists. Arianna and Alexandra speak up to argue that today’s youth do indeed have the power to be critical about what they read and hear. Before believing something, they will do the research, and find sources that confirm or deny what is being said or written.   

Not only do they do it, but so do their friends, their peers.

During a dinner with friends, if one person says something, everyone else will get on their cell phones to research the topic, then jump into the debate feet first.

Let me add my grain of salt. When TV first arrived in our lives, my grandmother, who was about 40 at the time, believed that everything that was said on commercials was the absolute truth. The younger members of the family, like my father and myself, never believed commercials. TV was already in place, and we knew all about its strengths and weaknesses, as well as its limitations.

I’ve noticed that a similar process is underway with social media. Most young adults these days are vaccinated and have done their research. Those who aren’t vaccinated and haven’t done their research are older. When you get to a certain age, you’re vaccinated against all new forms of technology. Leaving aside those with severe personality disorders, the age range most gullible in terms of social media is between the ages of 35 and 55.  

You may say that youths between 12 and 18 are too naive. But these are teenagers in full crisis mode who rebel against any and all parental and societal authority. They have more confidence in their Facebook “friends” than in any reflective logic. Don’t despair. They’ll eventually become responsible adults. At least, let’s hope.

But don’t believe me. Don’t take anything for granted. Be paranoid. It’s an essential quality for a good critic. Judge for yourself.

Conspiracy Theorists

For a long time, people doubted that the Earth was round.

In 1910, when Halley’s Comet passed overhead, many thought the end of the world was at hand.

An evangelist predicted the end of the world would arrive in 1923, postponed it until 1927, then to 1930, then to 1934, and finally, set the date for 1935. He died in 1942, so he couldn’t give us any more dates for the end of the world.

In 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy led to a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories.

In 1969, a sect became convinced that the end of the world wold arrive when man walked on the Moon. Today, over 50 years later, 9% of the French still think the same thing.

Elvis died in 1977, but many still think he’s alive.

The Y2K computer bug (in the year 2000) created enormous stress for a lot of people. The next computer bug involving dates will come around in 2038, thanks to another technocratic detail.

In 2001, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers had conspiracy theorists going madly off in all directions, coming up with all sorts of contradictory theories.

In 2019, the Coronavirus created an army of anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-rules and anti-anti-everything conspiracy theorists.

The conspiracy theorists’ success arises from the fact that rumors play on our deepest fears. Don’t try to convince a conspiracy theorist that they are wrong. Try to make them feel safe. Tell them that it’s normal to feel fear, but despite it all… we love them. As they say in interventions, don’t try to reason with someone who is intoxicated. Wait until they feel safe, and are ready to talk, and to listen.

If you have a conspiracy theorist in your own family, invite them to participate in leisure activities with you, and set limits. I’ll go fishing with you, but I won’t debate any conspiracy theories.  

First seen on the Reflet de Société website, December 3rd, 2021

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