'More Dangerous And More Widespread': Conspiracy Theories Spread Faster Than EverHistorians in the News
tags: conspiracy theories, political history
Millions of people watched the moon landing live on TV in 1969. But more than 50 years later, Bonnie Garland still isn't buying it.
"I personally do not believe that man has ever been out of the atmosphere," says Garland, a self-described housewife from Tucson, Ariz. "I'm a very inquisitive person. Always have been. So I question everything."
Garland also is skeptical that the Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists – even though they were. She doesn't believe that former President Barack Obama was born in the United States – even though he was. And she believes, falsely, that the coronavirus is just "another strain of the flu."
Garland is not alone. An NPR/Ipsos poll in December found that a significant number of Americans believe disinformation about the coronavirus and about settled historical facts. The findings underscore the enduring nature of unfounded conspiracies at a time when experts say disinformation is being spread on an unprecedented scale.
Bogus conspiracy theories like this have always been a part of U.S. history. Only now, experts say they're spreading faster and wider than ever before – accelerated by social media, encouraged by former President Trump, and weaponized in a way not seen before in American history.
"It has been getting worse," says Kathryn Olmsted, a professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and the author of the book, Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11. "Conspiracy theories have become more dangerous and more widespread, just even in the last 10 years."
Moreover, Olmsted says, a former president of the United States is giving credibility to false conspiracy theories on an unprecedented scale.
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