This Google Earth snapshot shows these buildings (in the lower left) are exactly where they should be in relation to the World Trade Center (upper right). It also shows why a conspiracy theory that says differently is utter insanity. (See below for more.)
There is rarely a week where at least one of my Facebook friends doesn’t post a conservative conspiracy theory of some kind. Fortunately, I’ve managed to hide most of those who rant too frequently.
I think conspiracies are popular with some people for reasons they might not be aware. Fighting or exposing a big evil can help raise one above that feeling of purposelessness, provide a coping mechanism for a mundane life, or enable an over-zealous sense of self-importance. It can also make an otherwise normal person sound unhinged.
Believing in a conspiracy may not entirely signify craziness, however. I leave that for the shifty-eyed guy with the tin-foil hat on YouTube. In fact, conspiracy does happen and that is why there is a category for it in our laws. But we all recognize that conspiracy theories are a different breed of conspiracy. They embrace the improbable.
Conspiracy theories are problems. They drive people to invest in unhealthy fantasy or to break down strong social connections with grounded friends. They also give far too much credit to what human beings can accomplish. I remember something David Duchovny once said in an interview during The X-Files years. When asked what he thought about the possibility of a government conspiracy of the size seen on The X-Files, he said that the larger the conspiracy needs to be and the more people need to be involved, the least likely it can succeed.
Edward Snowden’s revelations upset most of us, but the fact that he could pull off what he did is an example of exactly this logic. The government has a giant spying toy and failed to keep it a secret by failing to spy on the computers closest to it. The secret is now out.
What really drives me crazy, though, is that so many people spend their time fighting fictional conspiracies rather than real problems like social inequality, human trafficking, or online privacy violations. For that reason, I loved an article that appeared in Slate yesterday and which puts conspiracy theory craziness into perspective. In “Think Before You Share: That conspiracy video going around Facebook is a lie,” Scott Huler gets fed up with those Facebook friends who repeatedly share and fall for conspiracy theories.
He decides to show just how ridiculous one of those theories is.
In particular, he takes on one trending conspiracy from a video on YouTube that claims that no planes hit the towers in 2001. Why would someone say that? A YouTube video claims that a wing of one of the planes disappears when it passes a building said to be behind the towers and behind the plane, which would be impossible, but which the video narrator says is a glitch of 3D digital rendering. The video of the planes colliding with the Twin Towers, as the conspiracy theory goes, were therefore faked and never happened.
Of course he’s wrong. Everything in the conspiracy hinges on the building being behind the Towers and plane, but they are not.
Using Google Earth (see my screenshot above), Huler shows that, in fact, the buildings are several blocks south in the other direction, where they should be for the video to be real. In other words, the conspiracy theory video circling Facebook took approximately 5 minutes to debunk and those who share it never bothered to try.
Read his article. It’s worth it. And then go and delete that crazy post from your timeline.
When something is stupid beyond imagination, I know what to do: Walk away. Yet I couldn’t let it go. For one thing, my friend’s Facebook post was filling up with annoyed responses from his many other normal friends, and I kept thinking: How many hours have been wasted today by usually productive people who could have otherwise been … watching cat videos or something? I get that people can waste their time how they like, and freedom of speech means you can publish and share any addled, paranoid rant, but 2.5 million hits is 2.5 million wastes of 2:18. That’s 5 million minutes. That’s closing in on 100,000 hours that people spent watching this hooey. Read the full article at Slate.