How fake news goes viral: The ancient dynamic of conspiracy theories
We tend to think these days that social media has the special power to not just spread fake news, but to make up the most fantastic stories from nothing. The QAnon group in the US famously believed that the Democratic Party under Joe Biden was running a child sex slave ring. In 2016 the the Gupta’s hired the British Bell Pottinger company, to divert attention from their own misdeeds. Bell Pottinger coined the conspiracy theory phrase, ‘white monopoly capital’, which was devastatingly effective.
But this strange process of confabulation has been going on for a very long time. In 1959 CG Jung wrote a book on flying saucers, after belief in the phenomenon had suddenly spread worldwide in 1947. A book entitled, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, proposing that this Zionist organisation was planning to take over the world, has been circulating since the 1890’s and is still in print today. Jay Smith wrote a book in 2011 on ‘The “beast of the Gévaudan,” a wolf-like “monster” that haunted imaginations everywhere in Europe and spread apocalyptic fear throughout the population of the Gévaudan, a remote, mountainous region in southern France in 1764 and 1765.’ (See the image below.) Victoria Pagan describes the conspiracy theories doing the rounds in ancient Rome about secret organisations of women.
So what is it that takes hold of reasonable minds? Roger Cohen (2010) notes, “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”. But is it that simple?
More about the Presenter
Johann Graaff is a retired sociologist from UCT, but is now interested in the cross over between Jungian psychology and sociology. He graduated from the CG Jung Institute in Zurich, and has a practice as a Jungian analyst. He is member of SAAJA, currently serving on Curriculum Committee.
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