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Friday, January 18, 2013

Viral insanity

by digby

David wrote about the deeply creepy conspiracy theorizing about Sandy Hook the other day, but it's worth noting that it seems to be on the verge of going mainstream. If that happens we are sicker than I thought:

There are two kinds of conspiracy theories: The ones, about the Illuminati and about mysterious "chemtrails," that lurk forever in the online twilight zone, favored by a hard core of fringe believers; and the ones that, like the equally ludicrous speculation about Barack Obama's nativity, break into the nation's political conversation.

The repugnant and absurd theories about the massacre of children in Newtown, Conn. last month seem like an obvious candidate for the first category, simply too insane to gain any sort of wide acceptance. But some of the factors that can bring theories in from the fringe appear to be driving its unexpected surge this month: A connection to America's intensely polarized political culture in general, and a message that appeals to a longstanding fear among gun owners, in particular.

The leading version of the "Sandy Hook Hoax" theory, such as it is, holds that the incident was staged by the White House as a prelude to disarming America. Many of its claims are rooted in contradictory and confusing media statements that came out of the chaos of the first hours of the shooting, and which are virtually always present in such chaotic moments. (Similar confused media reporting served as the basis of the 9/11 Truth movement.)

The theory is ludicrous, but there is hard evidence that it has begun to go viral. The leading, anonymous, 30-minute video created by YouTube user ThinkOutsideTheTV had been viewed 10.6 million times by Friday morning. The search engine Topsy, which measures Twitter conversation, shows discussion of the video rising fast this week starting on Sunday and then, as those conversations peak and drop, discussion of a "Sandy Hook hoax" largely continuing to rise, with only a slight dip. And Twitter is just a tiny slice of a broader social space that includes Facebook, YouTube, and, in particular, email forwards, which typically are the key communication channels for conspiracy theories.

"It's by far the hottest topic of the moment," said David Mikkelson, the co-founder of the popular fact-checking website Snopes.com, which offers a detailed and extensive debunking of the theory's various planks.

The term "Sandy Hook conspiracy" was also a "hot search" on Google this week.
And it has begun to pop up around the edges of broader American culture. On Jan. 16, Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span tweeted, "I was watching some controversial stuff on YouTube about the sandy hooks thing today! It really makes u think and wonder." His followers quickly responded with criticism: "c'mon man be smarter than that..." and "NO, man. Don't go into the conspiracies. They're garbage, cooked up by truly sick people."

Span apologized in a series of subsequent tweets, concluding with: "For the record if I truly offended anybody, I AM TRULY SORRY! I'm not in the business of hurting people. I'm ok twitter to have a good time."

This is the one that gets me:

And Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton has launched an internal investigation of a communications professor, James Tracy, who has claimed the Obama Administration may have hired "crisis actors" who would grieve on camera and shape public opinion in favor of gun control.
The theorists claim some of the parents and witnesses are paid actors who, because they don't shed tears on camera, are pretending their children died. The "Sandy Hook Shooting - Fully Exposed" video shows a photo of children hugging Obama during a visit to Newtown. The theorists claim one of the little girls is Emilie Parker, who was killed in the shooting. The little girl, who shares many of Emilie's features, is her sister.

That's just .... god, it's just so sick.

I have received emails from people claiming that the police found the semi-automatic in Lanza's car so the whole story doesn't make sense, but the fact is that they found a shotgun in his car, not the semi-automatic.

A lot of this stems from erroneous early reporting which these loons latch onto as proof that the "story has changed." I suppose that's a hazard of our super fast media world in which we hear all kinds of things in the early aftermath of any event. But that doesn't excuse the utter stupidity of people believing that the government they believe is so inept that it cannot be trusted to administer the most benign regulation is competent to stage a conspiracy of such complexity just in order to create a groundswell of support for some very mild gun control. If they were that good, I'm fairly sure they'd have found a way to get these morons to hand them over voluntarily.

The paranoid strain is really lively these days. And that's not good for anybody.

Here's the video millions are watching and believing: