Conspiracy Theories & Social Media

Conspiracy Theories & Social Media Conspiracy Theories & Social Media

August 2, 20192 min read

A recent Rolling Stone article examining an FBI memo focused on the spread of conspiracy theories includes analysis from Kathleen Stansberry, assistant professor of strategic communications. 



The article was prompted by reporting by Yahoo News on the memo, which cited a number of violent incidents believed to be linked to conspiracy theories and offered that "these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts." In the Rolling Stone article, reporter EJ Dickson focused specifically on the activity of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory about a supposed "deep state" effort targeting President Donald Trump and his supporters. 


In the article, Stansberry explains the role that social media — in particular the YouTube and Twitter platforms — have played in propagating these theories and why conspiracy theories can be so dangerous. 


This, says Stansberry, is precisely what makes conspiracy theories so dangerous: because they are impossible to disprove, any outsider attempt to poke holes in them is always viewed as just another sign, just another breadcrumb, just another reason for you to keep fighting to get the real story out into the world.
“You’re trying to share the truth as you see it, and there’s some reason why that truth is being hidden,” she explains. “If you truly believe in the conspiracy theory, then you’re David against Goliath.” She suggests that the memo “could certainly have stoked some of the desire for people to push what they see as their truth out.”



If Dr. Stansberry can assist with your reporting about social media and the spread of conspiracy theoriesplease reach out to News Bureau Director Owen Covington at ocovington@elon.edu or (336) 278-7413. Dr. Stansberry is available for phone, email and broadcast interviews.


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