Thanks America, Your Conspiracy Theories are Now Everywhere | Opinion

It's not easy to leave the orbit of a superpower, or not to be influenced by it. In addition to cinema, TV, music and a whole history of closeness and foreign relations, the internet has brought new elements that help explain the export of conspiracy theories from the U.S. to other parts of the world—notably to Brazil and Latin America.

QAnon, anti-vaxxers, flat-Earthers, they are all creations of lunatics based in the U.S. and often support former President Donald Trump. But now they are everywhere.

Conspiracy theories spread in the most prosaic ways: often, people just want to believe in something or have a sense of community; they want to find meaning. In general, during periods of social crisis, with profound social and economic changes, such theories tend to gain ground.

In Medieval Europe, Jews were victims of conspiracies and persecution in times of acute crisis, whether it was diseases, bad harvests or some king in need of easy money. In Nazi Germany, again the Jews were used as scapegoats for the country's plight after the First World War. In Myanmar, the Muslim Rohingya were victims of conspiracy theories, which were used to justify their genocide.

And today it could not be any different—nationalist groups seeking to fabricate external enemies to justify their existence, far-right individuals and groups gathering pieces of different conspiracy theories to justify violent actions and people desperate for explanations to appease their fears that they could not find in science and reason.

People disillusioned by doctors end up looking for miraculous cures and go to the limits of mind and body. Despair is an excellent engine for conspiracies. And often authoritarian leaders along with their closest and fanatical supporters seek to manipulate the masses by feeding them fear and absurd beliefs to justify exceptional measures to remain in power.

Fear is easily spread.

A few days ago, David Nemer, assistant professor of communication at the University of Virginia, told me that there is no single explanation to understand how conspiracies spread. The two most common ways they spread, however, are through the action of organized groups seeking to impose an agenda on a global scale and individuals who seek information (such as parents trying to understand more about their children's autism). Those who encounter conspiracies are searching for simple answers and even miraculous solutions to their problems.

These groups often give their members an identity, a reason to live, Nemer explained. The idea of a far-right identity is no longer restricted to one country but is spread by and through the internet–from ISIS to the alt-right, explain researchers Jonas Kaiser and Adrian Rauchfleisch, in a 2019 article.

Amid the paranoia propagated by Trump and soon after a global pandemic, it is understandable that conspiracy theories gain strength and end up being amplified by the internet. It is the global reach of the internet that helps explain how a completely staggering theory about a global cabal of pedophiles has managed to gain followers all over the world.

But the internet alone cannot be held responsible. It is nothing more than a tool—constantly manipulated by algorithms to promote conflict on platforms like Facebook.

Conspiracy theory signs
A person wears a protective face mask near conspiracy theory signs outside the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2020, in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty Images

Two elements, then, are fundamental to understand the situation: the pandemic and the global far-right alliance advocated by Steve Bannon, which united governments with extreme ideologies from various parts of the world and facilitated the spread of conspiracies that are useful for these groups to remain in power.

In Brazil, far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is a sort of Trump copycat. Conspiracies there have gained ground. They pose a serious threat as the president himself preaches against the efficacy of vaccines or social distancing. Through WhatsApp groups and social media channels, supporters of the president spread misinformation. Never before has the far-right been able to organize itself so practically, instantly and virtually without barriers.

It doesn't come as a surprise that believers in the QAnon conspiracy were able to link the coup in Myanmar (due to alleged voting fraud) to the electronic vote of the U.S. election. Guess who was reluctant to accept the U.S. election results and stood by Trump? Jair Bolsonaro.

In Brazil, a fake news network known as the "office of hate" is accused of operating inside the government palace and controlled by the president's own son, Rio de Janeiro councilman Carlos Bolsonaro. This shows that conspiracies have spread all over the world with the support of far-right political leaders and the collusion of social networks.

In 2019, researchers concluded that Brazilian anti-vaxxers imported conspiracy theories from the U.S. thanks to the recommendations of YouTube's algorithm and private Facebook groups.

"The creators of these theories are driven to seek new markets in order to increase their base of supporters, who support their way of life" said Yasodara Cordova, one of the researchers involved in the study. She said there's also "market logic" involved.

QAnon groups have also surfaced on Telegram and Facebook in Brazil. In Germany, Qanon is also present in demonstrations against COVID lockdowns. Like them, flat-Earthers also have a robust network worldwide. Crazy conspiracies have always been around, but the pandemic has given conspiracists a stage like never before.

More than just individuals caught in web of conspiracies, the far-right has created true global ecosystems of disinformation, fake news and conspiracy. This leads to a certain uniformity, that is, theories end up becoming global and more cohesive, and thus gain strength.

Trump has become a model of leadership for this group, so it is not surprising that all over the world his image and believing in conspiracies become the standard to follow.

While many sat in front of their TV or computer to follow the American elections—a global event—conspirators did the same all over the world, but with a much more damaging agenda.

Raphael Tsavkko Garcia is a Brazilian journalist based in Belgium. He holds a PhD in human rights from the University of Deusto (Spain).

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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