Going online in the age of conspiracy theories

A 12-minute video that’s making the rounds this week claims the 1985 film Back to the Future contains a coded message warning of the 9/11 attacks. The gist of this theory: Twin Pines mall, where one of the movie’s main characters is attacked by terrorists, is meant to represent the Twin Towers. (There’s also something about how film is a portal to transcendence.) The name of the group that made the video, Apophenia Productions, seems appropriate. Apophenia refers to the tendency to perceive a pattern among unrelated or random ideas or objects…

These and other conspiracy theories, the researchers argue, have always been prompted by perceived asymmetries in power structures. “The causes of conspiracy theories are not primarily philosophical, psychological, or sociological—they are political,” they wrote in their book.

And if you look back over time, the same political themes emerge across multiple conspiracy theories. “[They] are marked by a distinct thematic configuration, narrative structure, and explanatory logic, as well as by the stubborn presence of a number of common motifs and tropes,” wrote Jovan Byford in Conspiracy Theories: A Critical Introduction. “Conspiracist interpretations of the 2008 financial crisis draw on the same armory of arguments and tropes which were used to interpret the Great Depression of the 1930s. The 9/11 Truther movement draws extensively on the interpretative framework established in the 1940s, when the opponents of Franklin D. Roosevelt accused him of allowing Pearl Harbor to happen in order to create a pretext for taking America to war.”