How Truth Lost
Everyone has a device in their pocket that can record and upload pictures, videos, and audio conversations directly to the internet with the tap of a button. We can immediately connect with millions of people with virtually no barriers. We can have raw footage of events live as they take place. All of it is archived and readily accessible. You can call it up in a matter of seconds, direct evidence of who said what and when and where. While this may have murdered privacy, it should have been a grand and final victory for truth. It simply can’t hide anymore behind controlled media or manipulated government statements. You couldn’t keep the truth away from the people if you tried, there are just too many of them who can review, confirm, and fact check every statement and claim.
So where did it go?
How did we end up living in a place where throngs of people genuinely believe that 5G towers cause COVID, that the planet is flat, and that vaccines are a subtle way to inject microscopic tracking devices into your bloodstream? We’ve somehow managed to turn a technology that is just shy of being called a miracle, the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere and share information at lightning speed, into a perpetual motion machine of blinding misinformation.
The conspiracy theorists are nothing new, nor are their cousins in rebel militia groups or the preppers in their basement bunkers. We’ve always had to contend with people employing magical thinking and seeing a vast, interconnected web of symbols and shadowy figures pulling on the puppet strings at every turn. This isn’t about people rightfully calling out government corruption or blatant media bias, we’re referring to those who see connections where there are none and make wild leaps in judgement based on what none could ever reasonably call evidence. These people were on the fringes of society and while their passion was limitless, their influence was minimal. They were unable to spread their views far and wide, having them rightfully dismissed as paranoid delusions lacking any rational thought. Traditional media was denied to them on the basis of their outrageous claims. Self-publishing and social media were nonexistent and even the slightest ability to connect with any significant number likeminded people was virtually impossible. And so we, at worst, had to tune past the local conspiratorial AM radio station while traveling through a rural part of the country.
Then the miracle happened. High speed internet became available and later a staple of modern life. We now use it for much of our business, be it online shopping or tax preparation. More importantly, it has taken over our discourse and become the main platform from which we espouse our views and connect with both our leaders and one another. It has a hand in everything we do and it can now be seen as the primary mode with which we communicate. This brought an endless number of conveniences but it also swung the doors to our homes and minds wide open to every paranoid and bad actor on the face of the earth. They now instantly had the ability to reach out and tap you on the shoulder to see if you’d be interested in salvation. You probably brushed them off and so did most people you know, so did most people out there. But not everyone. Some ears perked up when they heard about NASA lying to us regarding the shape of the planet. Some people clicked the link to the video where a man explains how vaccines contain fetal tissue or saline and tracking devices. Some people stopped there, realizing that this is baseless and not worth their time. But not everyone. A few clicked again, and again, and went down the rabbit hole.
They heard about how Obama was a plant and jets regularly release chemtrails over heavily populated areas. How the Pentagon was hit by a missile and the towers were wired with explosives and thermite paint. How the Jews are working to move massive numbers of Africans into Europe to destroy the white man. That a secret cabal of satanic pedophiles and rapists are trafficking children across the globe and using their sales as leverage to run entire states. How climate change is a scam to prevent the free movement of populations. That a communication tower can disseminate a respiratory disease, triggering a pandemic which would then be used as cover to enact an authoritarian world government, disarm the population, and make serfs of us all to technocratic overlords. They learned that everyone and anyone who questions any of their beliefs is a stooge, a useful idiot or part of the Deep State.
Above all, they connected with many other people who believed in and were learning the same things they were. Groups grant the illusion of legitimacy. Whereas there would only be tiny groups of the most hardline and hateful conspiracy theorists, our newfound interconnectivity has given them endless spaces to convene and share delusions. If one was taken down, another two sprung up to take its place. As numbers swell, so too do the opinions of more common folk shift, now curious about this movement that couldn’t possibly all be wrong with so many adherents. Theorists emboldened by their numbers began speaking openly about their ideas to others they trusted. People who would otherwise ignore these notions are now drawn to this growing number of people who are “in the know.” Even some of their friends and relatives are open about what they’ve learned online and how their eyes have been opened. Exclusivity sells luxury brands and it sells ideas. No one wants to be left in the dark or just another mindless sheep being led to the slaughter. No one wants to be a sucker. Being enlightened and standing above the crowd is a very attractive proposition and this is exactly what’s offered in these circles. In many ways, the more obscene or unlikely the premise, the more seemingly true it becomes to a believer. How could something this elaborate even be entertained if it wasn’t at the Deep State behind it all? They use the excuse “that’s crazy!” for cover every time they’re questioned. So few believe us because so few know the real truth.
Even with their recent forays into the real world, these communities are still primarily online. Existing in online spaces means the ability to live in parallel worlds. You may use your connection to talk to loved ones over Facebook or watch YouTube to get sports highlights without ever interacting with this part of the internet. Others swap theories and delusions in these same areas, being inundated with an endless procession of new content on the same topics. These platforms find patterns in one’s viewing behaviour and will feed more of what one is clearly interested in, even if the content devolves into absolute lunacy. So long as the user continues to engage, social media platforms will find new content for them to consume. They find more and their beliefs are further cemented. The internet you see versus the one a conspiracy theorist sees are diametrically opposed. This allows them to occupy online spaces that are algorithmically tailored to let them see and hear only what they want. Their own news sources that tell them what they want to hear, their own commentators that reinforce what they already think to be true. If you have trouble believing this, consider the fact that the last two sentences are regularly stated by them about you.
So if the extraordinary is possible and grand, elaborate schemes are regularly taking place right under our noses, where does that leave the mundane? If nothing can be certain, surely smaller matters are up for grabs. Now we question everything no matter how well understood and established. This means there is no truth, no fundamental set of principles that we can all agree on and use as a platform from which to have our discussions. Both our legs and the ground upon which they once stood have been taken out from under us. This is why an ambassador can watch a screen without seeing what’s on it. He’ll talk straight faced about the beauty of the land before him seemingly without the encumbrance of the blindfolded prisoners being herded like cattle onto waiting trains.
Governments were quick to embrace this trend of misinformation. There are few things as beneficial to a government, especially an authoritarian regime, as mass confusion and hysteria. A terrified population is one that embraces the status quo in the desperate search for safety and stability. They look to strong leaders and martial might for security and it’s something those leaders are happy to provide in exchange for a little freedom. We’ve already seen both Russian and Chinese governments delve deeply into the online world as a means of attacking their ideological opponents. Censorship is common in their spheres, restricting their people’s ability to access specific information that runs counter to their vision for society while ensuring that a specific type of misinformation peppers the smartphones and computers of those across the pond. Both Russian and Chinese governments have been caught employing large numbers of people making use of multiple devices and social media platforms for the sole purpose of sowing discontent online while reinforcing party-centric views. This is having the desired effect of riling up an already agitated foreign populace and creating more divisions between people. Stoking racial tensions and reinforcing conspiracy theories on a massive scale for years on end have absolutely contributed to the destabilization of democracy and the increasing skepticism surrounding its efficacy.
Years of misinformation by individuals, steadily growing in both size and scope, and compounded by opportunistic and resourceful foreign bad actors have brought us to this point. Where there are no basic sets of knowledge, the dialogue is paralyzed. Exploring the complicated matters that pertain to our society is doomed to fail before it begins. Everyone is suspect and their motives can never truly be proven benign, they can only be watched cautiously until their inevitable discovery. If there are no fundamentals and our institutions cannot be trusted and our neighbours are stooges and our leaders compromised and corrupted then there is no truth — there is no up or down. Only an endless array of interpretations, opinions, redacted statements, obfuscations, and outright lies.
The truth exists. Every encounter or situation took place in a specific way and at a specific time. Each statement was made with a certain intent and with a specific set of language. Facts do not change based on an observer’s predilections. The truth can’t be forced out of existence, even with the incalculable amount of resources being devoted to its extinction. Though it can be buried beneath a flood of hoaxes and baseless accusations. That’s where it lies right now, but we can still find it.