The internet has bred some interesting niche hobbies. Users can do things like trade and collect old VHS tapes with ease in online communities. They can ban together to role play as baby boomers, and they can spread out-there conspiracy theories that attempt to prove or disprove anything from the moon landing to the nature of the 9/11 attacks. Social media sites are, however, cracking down on the spread of conspiracy theories in the wake of the #fakenews dilemma that’s forcing the internet to be held accountable for the information that gets spread. YouTube opted to first remove conspiracy theories from its suggestion algorithm before banning them altogether in a later decision. Now, the FBI is chiming in on the subject.
A THREAT TO SECURITY
A memo from the Federal Bureau of Investigation reveals that the organization looks at conspiracy theories in the same way it looks at potential terrorist threats. The memo was first obtained and reported on by Yahoo News this week, though it was originally published within the organization’s Phoenix office back in May. In it, details about arrests made against potential terrorists that were not publicized reveal that the bureau looks at certain fringe conspiracy theories with the same fervor as they would a threat to national security. Among those specifically mentioned in the memo are groups like QAnon and Pizzagate. Both theories allege that President Trump, among other major political figures, are involved in things like child sex trafficking.
While it may sound like the FBI is trying to protect its own leaders, the bureau assures that such conspiracy theories can be found to fuel extremist behavior that, in some cases, could pan out as actual terrorist attacks. In particular, the Federal Bureau of Investigation designates threats of extremism from conspiracy theories under a blanket category of “anti-government extremism.” The category is among four major categories of extremism, according to the bureau, that include abortion extremism, animal rights/environmental extremism, anti-government extremism, and racially motivated violent extremism.
The development of conspiracy theories like QAnon and Pizzagate fuel anti-government attitudes that threaten to expose alleged cover-ups and fuel extremist behavior that could result in crime. While conspiracy theories that we never went to the moon or that the earth is actually flat are seemingly harmless, they create a breeding ground for deeper conspiracies that threaten the safety of public leaders or even civilians, in some cases. As we head into the 2020 election, the bureau anticipates that the fuel from conspiracy theories will only increase the threat of extremist behavior.
SOCIAL MEDIA’S ROLE
Social networks like YouTube and Facebook have acknowledged that they play a pivotal role in the spread and growth of conspiracy theories. Facebook, which just became the subject of headlines for its record fine as a result of its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, revealed earlier this year that it acknowledges the role it played in the Rohingya genocide happening in Myanmar. YouTube, on the other hand, revealed that it now considers conspiracy theory videos to be potentially harmful and against its Terms and Conditions. The spread of fake news is nothing new, but social networking sites and the United States government are actively working to dissuade internet users from spreading extremism through conspiracy theories meant to dismantle organizations.