I recently read an excellent article on Games and Conspiracies. (https://medium.com/curiouserinstitute/a-game-designers-analysis-of-qanon-580972548be5)
This was a paradigm-shifting article for me to find. Profoundly so.
I have been baffled for 5 years how people I respect, who are intelligent humans, could be led into believing wildly cruel, untrue, or inappropriate things that are against their core beliefs. Some of them have even fallen into a conspiracy theory named by its believers "QAnon."
It turns out the surest hint that you are susceptible to these wildly led-astray beliefs is to be sure that you are not susceptible. Apparently everyone is susceptible to falling into and believing conspiracies and wildly untrue but logically satisfying things--and the more you think you, personally, are not, the more likely you are to be led astray.
And it's all done in a clever, well-documented, structured way that consistently works.
For example, from the article:
QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.
There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at...
...It’s easy for people to forget that they are not discovering the story, but creating it from random data.
You should read the whole article. VERY eye opening.
There are things you can watch out for that are signs that something you are engaging with are potentially conspiracy-related, false, or dangerously manipulative.
Some of the red flags:
1. They use the phrase "Do Your Own Research."
You hear this from anti-vaxxers, anti-Mormons, and QAnon supporters all the time. It's almost cliche. Why do they say this? Telling people what to believe makes them resist. Leading them along and planting thoughts in their heads while convincing them the thoughts are their own is way more effective. Making them think they came to the conclusion you planted is the surest way to convince them to continue with what you want them to believe. They call this "following a trail of breadcrumbs." The breadcrumbs are hints that make you think you are doing your own research, but actually the research prompts, questions, and suggested resources are 100% designed to lead you to a particular conclusion. This often includes refusing to answer questions outright, but instead giving dodgy answers or respond with questions. (This is a legitimate educational technique also, but if they never give a straight answer, that's a red flag.)
2. They tell you that you can only trust their sources of information.
The manipulators here, the puppetmasters, don't just go cold-turkey. They rely on real situations that are problematic, like that media is biased and that the majority of media organizations appear to lean left instead of right. Then they take that concern and magnify it, convincing people to not trust or listen to any other sources of information. If someone or some belief system is insisting you cannot get accurate information from anyone but them, or that you should never trust experts in the fields involved or even the people actually involved in the work at hand (like elections officials or epidemiologists) that should be a huge red flag that there is conspiracy and manipulation going on, and you should absolutely turn away.
3. They convince people that evidence against something is actually evidence FOR it.
The fact, for example, that nobody has heard of a particular thing is reinterpreted as a vast conspiracy to keep it secret rather than as evidence that it's not real or true.
4. The explanations for things are complicated, convoluted, and winding, but they tie up every loose end and use every piece of the puzzle, leaving every single fact accounted for and explained in one beautiful, complex thread that winds here and there but catches everything.
As my brother recently noted: real life is messy. It leaves thing unexplained. There is no unifying theory that ties every single observation into one lovely whole.
Real life is also not as complicated as these theories are. Occam's Razor does fall short in trying to insist that the simplest explanation is most likely the real one, but it is a useful tool for protecting us from conspiracy theories and manipulation. If there is a simpler explanation, we should at least consider it seriously, even if it does not give the heady satisfaction of understanding (or creating) a wonderfully complicated theory of everything.
5. The ideas require whole masses of people to think, believe, and act the same way consistently and over time.
In real life, people are not as smart as they are in conspiracy theories. They can't think through and implement all the myriad pieces and threads required for a conspiracy theory to happen. It's actually more likely that we have coincidence than that all the threads could possibly be tied together by all the people required all the time with no mistakes and nobody spilling the beans. People can't actually conceive of and implement things like massive, large-scale frauds because it's nearly impossible to get everyone on the same page, agreeing, competent, and consistently cooperative. Think about how hard it is just to get family pictures taken! Is it at all reasonable that someone somewhere could implement the kinds of complex frauds or theories being proposed? Usually not. Humans are not that adept, or smart, or cooperative in real life. This goes from massive election fraud all the way to the media all believing and acting in sync to accomplish some goal. Real humans just don't function that way. They're just not cooperative enough.
6. The majority of the people explaining the ideas appear only on certain websites or YouTube and nowhere else
If the information can't be found anywhere outside the circle that promotes it, look critically at it. Truth gets spread far and wide and picked up by all kind of sources and people. Conspiracy tends to stay limited in scope and distribution.
7. They insist the "truth," once you've come to the conclusion they desire, is so self-evident that it does not need to be questioned or tested (as by scientists or data analysis) or even confirmed.
If someone's main argument is "it's obvious," that would be a red flag. True things can be analyzed, explored, and confirmed. You can find evidence from myriad sources. It can be questioned and stand up to scrutiny. It doesn't have to remain only self-evident.
8. They insist that whole classes of people en masse (and also anyone who disagrees with them) are evil.
Anyone who tries to convince you that other humans as a class (other political parties, other races, other religions, other nations, etc.) are inherently and irredeemably always wrong or evil is not working for God. God wants us to love one another, not despise, belittle, demean, or mock others (including such small things as name calling). He also does not want us to consider an entire class of our brothers and sisters to be so morally or intellectually bankrupt that they become lesser or even worthy of destruction. The puppetmasters or manipulators also encourage people to cut off communication with those who refuse to accept the ideas or who change their minds or leave the ideas behind. But we should not be cutting off all communication with family and loved ones. That makes this a big red flag. Anything that encourages us vs them thinking should be suspect. This includes anything that reduces other people's motives or beliefs to some simple and oft-repeated negative catchphrase (like "you just hate ____.") rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt, a chance to explain or even believe something, or the respect that humans deserve as humans.
9. They encourage simplistic black vs white, good vs evil thinking.
In real life, there is complexity in every situation. There is nuance and exception and depth and information we didn't know or didn't consider that changes the way things are interpreted. There is good vs evil in the world (truly, Jesus is good and Satan is evil). But the vast majority of situations are not easily classed. The nuance and detail gets in the way, so that there is not one single, simple right and one single wrong answer. Most things are not just black or white. There are all kinds of colors. There are all kinds of shades of gray. You can see this reflected in Church statements and policies on things like abortion, surrogacy, and immigration. Thank goodness for modern prophets to help us see where the lines and pictures are in the sea of colors and shades that fill the world! If someone is encouraging this kind of simplistic black vs white thinking, that's a red flag.
10. Everyone involved tends to use the same phrases but declines to engage in complex, nuanced discussion.
If the whole group that believes the things you are looking at discourage critical and complex thinking and reduce most ideas to a few seemingly-quoted catchphrases, that would be a red flag. When real people are thinking and discussing, they do use phrases they've heard before, but they usually can expand on them and explain them and talk around them. If everything seems to be reduced to catchphrase-y "reasons" that everyone quotes but nobody talks about in depth, that is a red flag that this is a conspiracy or a manipulation. This was explained by a cult expert as "Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words." I think that sums up what happens with non-cult conspiracy clusters as well. In fact, you can sometimes see believers shut down discussions that challenge the buzzwords. They use things like denial, justification, flat out rejection of rational analysis without engaging with it or seeming to hear it at all, or say the words "agree to disagree" or "I'm out" to end the discussion rather than have their conspiracy-related or manipulated ideas challenged in a way that might set them free from the ideas. As with number 8, this includes using simplistic, dismissive phrases to explain away ideas that threaten the belief.
11. They forbid criticism of some key thing (the leader, the text, the ideology, etc.)
If a group or a teacher completely forbids criticism at all of a key focus of their ideas, this is a red flag. Do they only say positive things and never allow or acknowledge or even process any criticism of someone or something? That's a problem. In real life, we see mistakes and errors even in things we love (like the Bible, for example). We acknowledge freely that the president we admire is not perfect and did something we disagree with. If criticism is not allowed, this is a red flag.
12. They make their ideas or their people the only way to accomplish the desired outcome
In real life, there are usually many ways to a desired end. One leader can accomplish things just as successfully as another. We recognize that different approaches appeal to different people or succeed better with different groups. If there is a one way or one man only thinking involved, that would be a red flag.
13. They instill fear and promote fear or motivate with fear or justify their actions using fear.
Jesus does not want us to fear. God did not put a spirit of fear in our souls. Fear is not a tool of good. If someone or some group is working or pushing an agenda by encouraging fear, that's not of God. If they make you fear your neighbors, or immigrants, or gay people, or poor people, or rich people, or things that are very different from you, or a set of ideas, or a source of information, that is a red flag that you might be dealing with conspiracy or manipulation.
14. They want more personal information from you that you normally would give. Or they ask for money in order for you to learn more "truth."
Do they need photos of your drivers license, front and back, to join their organization? Do you have to pay a fee to hear the rest of the vital truths they think everyone should know? Do they tell you some parts, promising this can change your life or answer all your questions, and then tell you if you come to their workshop or seminar, you'll learn more? And then there's another seminar? And another workshop? And you have a chance to "level up" like it's a game? (Energy work practitioners, Multi-level Marketers, and Self Help Organizations do this often!) If they want your money or your identity in order to share "truth" or ideas with you, or let you join, this is a huge huge huge red flag that you are being led into a conspiracy or into a manipulation. As with phone and email scams, if they want your ID or ask for any money at all, walk away and tell someone else to get back up and to clear your mind and get another perspective.
No doubt there are more warning signs that something or someone you are engaging with might lead you into believing something that is not true, is a conspiracy, or is a big old manipulation. I'd love to hear the ones I've missed here.
Unfortunately, at the moment, the "puppetmasters" who are getting a lot of traction from this are targeting conservatives hardcore, so we have to be especially careful. That is not to say that liberals are too smart or immune. It just so happens that at this moment in history, conservatives have a target on their backs for this kind of stuff, so we have to be extra careful to watch for the red flags because they abound.
Check out Part 2 for more information on specifically QAnon and their work to hijack conservative ideas and conservatives themselves,