Letter to the Editor: ‘Conspiracy theory’ is real and bad

Liberty Vittert gave us a commentary piece (DSN, Sept. 19) that said that “conspiracy theory” generation and propagation on the internet and social media are “In a word, No[t]” a problem. Vittert also said “There are no major studies on … conspiracy theories … until about 10-20 years ago.” Both of these two statements are at least incomplete and at most either incorrect or awkwardly stated.

“Conspiracy theory” needs to be understood as — or in terms of — any kind of disinformation or misinformation. It is both harmful and dangerous. There is a Wikipedia entry under the title “Foreign electoral intervention” and the country doing the most meddling is the USA.

The country doing the second most meddling is Russia (many other countries other than the USA and Russia do election meddling, too).

That entry had 80 references and sources and many went back more than 20 years and many covered events going back more than 50 years. The joint NSA/FBI/CIA unclassified report on meddling in the 2016 election in this country can be found by search on “ICA 2017-01D.”

The reports from both the US House and US Senate intelligence committees on Russian meddling, and the Mueller Report have all been out for some time and are easy to find and are also free to download. I have read them all. My conclusion from all this is that Vittert is crazy to think that what is in these reports is something like (harm-less) “conspiracy theory” and nothing to worry about.

Vittert’s sentence that starts “There are no major studies….” but ends “…until about 10-20 years ago.” tends to distract the reader away from asking about those recent years.

Three relevant additional detailed major journal studies (I have read all of these, too) can easily be found by internet search on the following titles. First, “Internet Research Agency Twitter activity predicted 2016 U.S. election polls.” Second, “Analyzing the digital traces of political manipulation: the 2016 Russian interference Twitter campaign.” A third journal article with the title: “Junky TV is actually making people dumber — and more likely to support populist politicians,” was authored by Laura Hazard Owens.

All of these articles have extensive references to still other studies. A book, “Network propaganda: manipulation, disinformation, and radicalization in American politics,” is available on Amazon.com (and other sites) and has been extensively discussed in many places on the internet and in at least some major print media. Book reviews indicate that it is a bombshell.

In the end many people will believe what they want to believe but quite a few really do want truth, fairness, and justice. In contrast to Vittert, my advice would be to beware of where your information comes from and whether there is any basis for it.

Arthur E. Sowers, PhD

Harbeson

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