How do I make some fake fake news?
November 17, 2021 2:05 PM   Subscribe

How should I build a site/video containing true/verified information that appeals to followers of conspiracy theories? I believe that the aesthetics and structure of conspiracy (and anti-elite in general) media is perceived by many as more reliable than traditional news and fact check websites, and I want to analyze what aspects could be borrowed. The goal is to communicate reliable information in a way that feels authentic to more people, and I could use some ideas.

I'm interested in any useful resources related to the aesthetics of various types of conspiracy/anti-elite media that people would stumble on while trying to "do their own research". It's actually very hard to search for this now because google and the other sites are trying to avoid surfacing conspiracy content. How do I figure out what types of websites and videos are actually popular within conspiracy theory communities? I guess the obvious answer is to start a parler/gab/whatever account and start following people but if someone else is already collecting good information I would prefer to use that.

I am not interested in building a "parody" site because the goal of this project is to distribute actually useful information, but well-made parody sites/videos could provide good inspiration. I know what conspiracy theory websites looked like 10 years ago, but it seems like they've advanced since then. I'm mostly interested in analyzing the anti-vax, Q, and science denialism parts of the internet. The information would likely be summaries of scientific studies and reporting on related topics, but taking seriously the concerns of people who feel disenfranchised by the current "elitist" information regime. Any resources or ideas are welcome, thanks!
posted by JZig to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The problem you have here is ideology. IMHO, most conspiracy theorists are actually sheeple who forward on information that appealed to their psyche. They usually don't ideate conspiracy theories, merely propagate them.

Therefore genuine information won't interest them. They need something to confirm their confirmation bias. They are going for information to affirm their truthiness.

That's why Infowars and Natural News appeal to them. They propagate the feeling of persecution, that THEY are the ones with the "truth" and we're the ones with the wool pulled over our eyes.
posted by kschang at 2:48 PM on November 17

Best answer: Create a new youtube account and do a single search for any media darling of the right or any of the hot conspiracy words and the algo will set you up once you've watched one or two videos. It's not hard to find, I still have to nope shit out of my recommendations even though my entire watch history and subscription list is cooking, crafting, and boat/vanlife, plus just a couple of gamers and homesteaders that I expect are flipping the "oh this person definitely needs to know about prepping for the coming race war" triggers.

One of the more popular presentation styles is a white middle-aged man in aggressive sunglasses in the driver's seat of his truck, screaming. You could probably scream a brownie recipe or instructions for folding a paper airplane and it would draw an audience.

You can also see r/Qult_Headquarters/ and r/FoxBrain/ for a lot of screenshots and references - I don't remember if linking is allowed in either group (I know it's not in r/QAnonCasualties/) but people do reference the various sites by unlinked name, if you want to know where else to go and what kind of things tend to trend.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:06 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Even if we assume that conspiracy theorists are sheeple, they are consuming the ideas from somewhere. Obviously the existing social networks and engagement algorithms encourage the spread of these videos/articles/memes, but the individual creators competing for the conspiracy theory audience would converge on styles like "white man yelling in truck" that work better than others.

Yeah, I probably will end up making a fake youtube/social media account to research this in detail. I feel uncomfortable about giving those videos views but they already have a lot of them so it doesn't do that much in the larger scope. I didn't think about those support group reddits as a source, that makes sense.
posted by JZig at 3:20 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

I suspect it’s more about borrowed authority - getting shared by the right people - than the right search terms or aesthetics. So to get your material to start coming up in people’s related feeds, you’d probably have to *at least* share their information first. I would definitely look at exactly what’s been mentioned above - allied interests like prepping, or possibly wellness/holistic medicine, pro hunting, pro guns, religious right, homeschooling (sorry other homeschoolers!), etc. (Why yes, I have mused over this with friends via Zoom.) Or a straight up advertising budget.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:25 PM on November 17

This is (kind of?) addressed in a game (?) at Bad News, where they present some research about what makes clickbait-ish, conspiracy-ish headlines so attractive. I guess you could use those powers for good.
posted by adekllny at 4:19 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

Kschang has got it. Another problem you'll encounter is tribal identity. The reason few people change their mind is that changing their mind disassociates you from the group you feel safe with. If all of a sudden you believe that so-and-so is not such-and-such, people in the community you live with are going to disassociate from you and think you're nuts. In very ancient times, that sort of disassociation from the group was a death sentence, so we learned to very much fear that and not do it.

That's why -- and it's still rarely done -- one-on-one personal human stories, talking from one person to another person without group sidelines coming in -- has proved the most effective way to change people's minds.
posted by WCityMike2 at 4:21 PM on November 17

It's not the presentation STYLE they are after. They are after ideas or information that affirms THEIR BELIEFS, even if they are lies, if they contradict science, if they contradict facts, or are outright nonsense.

A term often found in skeptic and pundit circles is "crank magnetism". If they fall for one crank idea, they will readily fall for another of similar ilk. That's why Qanon fodder readily falls for "Fourth State", "left wing conspiracy", antivax, natural medicine quackery, and adjacent ideas. It feeds into their dislike of the "nanny state" and even when the ideas are absolutely ludicrous, like child abduction secret society that hides messages in plain sight, or Hilary is a vampire and Trump is really still the president, they won't disbelieve it.

So unless the idea resonates with their psyche, they won't pay attention to it. You can support it with all the style, presentation value, and facts you can cram in, and they likely won't care about it. It goes AGAINST their grain, so to speak. They are not receptive to the truth, but truthiness. Your presentation does not matter if it doesn't fit their truthiness.
posted by kschang at 5:06 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

I don't think the format of the information is what's selling it either. The janky right wing memes aren't exactly the highest form of the argument and replacing their content with reality isn't going to do the job of selling reality; it's not like your racist uncle* is sharing the ugly MS paint memes because of the format, he's doing it despite the format. Because it contains that sweet sweet racism.

The reason that the algorithms end up sharing these memes is engagement (i.e., because people look at them and share them -- what the recommendation algorithms do is look at the kinds of things other people share who also share what you have, and extrapolate that you might like those things too) not because they fit some sort of template. Unfortunately this sort of extrapolation can't tell when what it's doing is suggesting ever more extremist content, because the algorithm isn't a thinking person it's just clever math.

* I do not actually know your uncle, I'm sure he's a lovely person.
posted by axiom at 5:09 PM on November 17

I suspect that co-opting the tactics of hardcore propaganda creators, with perhaps some cult charisma, and then using actual truth couched in the right style and sort of language would do it.

I've been considering playing with the concept myself. Except some people are so... gullible that they believe and share satire all the time. [sigh]
posted by stormyteal at 8:47 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

An amusing thing to try. I'd start by going to sites of the "how to tell if its legitimate on the internet " type. These are mostly aimed at senior citizens. They could give some notion of the techniques that are in use.

However, winging it on my own, I think the first thing you need is someone to blame. Anti-vaxxers have blamed Fauci, Bill Gates, the CDC, the drug companies, etc. It shouldn't be too hard to find someone who is pushing a hoax for personal profit. Against that, you can play up the results of some study that is ligit, but not publicized in the normal media.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:19 AM on November 18 [1 favorite]

>>find someone who is pushing a hoax for personal profit

Doesn't work. Wakefield was exposed for having his own agenda with his own vaccine, took money from lawyers who wanted to sue without disclosure, and improper ethics in using boys for studies. He lost his license to practice in UK. He's STILL lionized by antivaxxers decades later. The reporter who exposed him was ignored by antivaxxers for "having a personal vendetta". And everything else is a conspiracy to silence him. They simply ignore ANYTHING you state if it doesn't fit their psyche.

As Saul Bellow said, "A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”
posted by kschang at 9:13 AM on November 18 [1 favorite]

Did you know that the anti vac movement was started by the CIA? They want us all to get sick!

1. Blame someone.
2. Pick a big secret organization.
3. Ascribe evil motivations to them.
4. Have their motivation be inexplicable.
5. Do not provide any evidence.
6. Announce something really big, of a size to bring down governments.
7. Use an excited tone.

There's this substance they can paint on your arm so that getting a vaccination doesn't hurt. No side effects! You don't even feel it! Ronald Reagan got scientists to develop it but the CIA is suppressing the information. You have to demand it. It's called Prilocaine. Your doctor won't offer it to you unless you tell him he has to give it to you. The Pri- is from the word Pride because the people who developed it were American Patriots!

8. Claim miraculous efficacy from some healing substance.
9. Cite a demi-god/saint/figure from popular mythology.
10. Imply that they now possess a secret that will give them power.
11. Do not use politically correct language - doctors are all male.
11. Create a spurious link using numerology or a secret code.
12. Use that spurious link to reaffirm something important to them.

Share this before the information is suppressed!!!

13. Demand immediate action.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:12 AM on November 18 [4 favorites]

Your follow up can be announcing that Biden believes the vaccination will make us all sick which is why HE is pushing it, but American Patriots have fooled him, and it is really safe IF you make your appointment within the next two weeks.

Of course, like the definite date for the end of the world, you simply announce that the date has been extended and reschedules.

The hard part of this will be doing it without dog whistles. If you blame the Chinese, or gays, or communists you'll get a faster buy in, but you will also reinforce their prejudices. Starting a prayer chain that the truth about Prilocaine doesn't get suppressed as a follow up to the first announcement should be a good bet.

Two factors - fear of the other - and medical fears - are both key. People are afraid of strangers and want a miracle to make them safe. A huge number of religions are based on fear surrounding the fragility of our bodies. If you believe in God, you don't have to die. If you take a substance so diluted that it can't be detected you will be healed. So bring up those two fears and then throw a quick simple and cheap solution at them. I know someone who is taking elderberry extract to keep her safe from Covid, instead of a vaccine. Your solutions need to be simplistic, the way making a sign of the cross protects you from the devil.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:27 AM on November 18 [2 favorites]

A person's conclusions are much stronger when they come to it themselves. So a lot of conspiratorial news doesn't quite blatantly say, "there is a conspiracy". They combine some unrelated news events, postures up a link between them, casts doubt on the actors and media involved, and says "this is suspicious" or "this makes you think". This primes the reader to make up the connection and motivations in their head and they feel much more attached to their own "new" ideas, including defending it because it is their "own new" idea. And you can't attack their sources, because the actual news events did happen and no one disputes that.

A good example happened today, about smallpox:

Vials Labeled ‘Smallpox’ Are Found in Pennsylvania Laboratory (Nov 18 2021)
Bill Gates warns of smallpox terror attacks and urges leaders to use ‘germ games’ to prepare (Nov 4 2021)

You could easily write up a article that speculates about why the second news article happened so quickly after the first, bring up Gates' ties to pharma and previous statements about population growth and disease, and let the reader connect the dots.
posted by meowzilla at 2:23 PM on November 18

FWIW, this is known as JAQing off... for "Just asking questions".
posted by kschang at 3:10 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

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