Conspiracy theories no longer feel like a fringe phenomenon, with people claiming that Elvis isn’t dead or the royal family are shape-shifting alien lizards, put down as crackpots. Now presidents push them and major events are regularly followed by a slew of sinister ideas involving dark forces at work behind the scenes. Coronavirus is just the latest.
Some conspiracy theories may be harmless entertainment or a sign of healthy scepticism, but others are dangerous because they can fuel racism, violence, terrorism and chaos. With the prominence of conspiracy theories seemingly on the rise, we set out to better understand them.
Over five episodes, we speak to dozens of academics. Most are part of the Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories, an international network of conspiracy theory researchers, which supported the making of this podcast.
Psychologists tell us why some people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than others, and why there’s a spectrum ranging from the conspiracy curious to hardcore believers. Anthropologists explain why conspiracy talk is commonplace in some parts of the world but not others.
Conspiracy theories have evolved over the centuries, from ancient times to the present day. We discover how conspiracy theories were at the birth of the United States and how ideas of the Illuminati – a purported secret organisation pulling the puppet strings of major organisations and governments – have evolved from the French Revolution to the present day and now supposedly counts Jay-Z and Beyoncé among its members.
We find out how conspiracy theories spread and the extent that the internet has changed the game. We also investigate how dangerous conspiracy theories can be and why – whether it’s climate change denial, anti-vaxxers or political extremists.
All that and much more coming up on The Conversation’s expert guide to conspiracy theories.
You can listen on The Conversation or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from by clicking the links below.
Original music by Neeta Sarl and sound design by Eloise Stevens. The Anthill is produced by Gemma Ware and Annabel Bligh. A big thanks to City, University of London, for letting us use their studios.