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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at DCU chapter.

Conspiracy theories have always existed but increasingly obscure beliefs have gained significant momentum in recent years. From the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, to the moon landing, or even Area 51 conspiracy theories have held a consistent grip over the last century of popular culture. 


Now more than ever, in the age of misinformation, conspiracy theories have a greater tendency to spread at a rapid rate and portray malicious narratives. Throughout the pandemic, and especially so in its earlier months, people assumed positions of authority on social media in order to spread disinformation. 


Frustrated at the thought of government-mandated lockdowns, the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 had been caused by the installation of 5G cell towers was consumed and distributed further by many who genuinely believed it. Shortly thereafter, the majority of global leaders encouraged their citizens to use face coverings in order to quell the rapid spread of the virus. Perhaps in direct backlash to this, the idea that face coverings were personally restrictive and threatened the right to one’s freedom of expression was quickly popularised. In Ireland alone, the perpetuation of this belief led to multiple ‘anti-mask’ protests being staged across major cities. 


Until quite recently, most internet-users tended to take conspiracy theories with a grain of salt. With conspiracist beliefs beginning to veer in political directions, however, those with critical eyes began to direct attention towards the potential that theories have for inflicting harm upon already marginalised groups within society. A prominent example of this is the tendency for people to (often unknowingly) spread conspiracy theories that are rooted in anti-Semitism. 


Charlotte Knobloch, current president of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria, recently addressed this issue, stating that “anti-Semitism starts with conspiracy theories”. A popular conspiracy theory which espouses the idea that the world is controlled by a disguised race of reptilian people is directly linked to centuries-old prejudices against Jewish communities. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook who has a Jewish heritage, is frequently accused of being inhuman or having reptile-like features. This behaviour has more far-reaching consequences in terms of the general perception of Jewish people than one might believe from a superficial glance.


Of course, there’s no harm in enjoying conspiracy theories as a subject of interest or even on a humorous level, but you must keep at least one foot firmly grounded in reality. Too often, conspiracy theories are manipulated in order to directly take advantage of particular groups within society, often including those who may not have a sufficient level of media literacy. It is not a conspiracy in itself which is harmful to a democratic and functional society, rather the use of outlandish beliefs to further anti-authority political agendas is what poses a grave threat. 


The most effective method of staying in control of your exposure to extremist conspiracy theories is to develop a critical eye for information that you consume on the internet. If you come across an article on Facebook or a YouTube video that appears to make unfounded claims — get into the habit of conducting your own background research into the subject area from reputable sources. With a little practice, this is an extremely useful skill to have, and you will find yourself able to verify or dismiss information with a few clicks.

MA Journalism student at DCU
BA in Economics, Politics and Law DCU. Currently studying European Union Law in The University of Amsterdam. Campus Correspondent for Her Campus DCU 2020/2021!