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Conspiracies on the Internet

September 2002

I'm a mainstream kind of guy. I tend to believe that there are a lot of sincere, hardworking people in government and corporations. I tend to believe that journalists try to be objective and accurate. And I doubt that there's a secret cabal of any sort running the world.

And I'm starting to believe I'm in the minority. Many of my highly intelligent friends and colleagues have their pet conspiracy theories. And the source of much of their information is . . . the Internet.

One friend recently pointed me to Tax Statement. On this site you can read a "shocking, eye-opening report how The Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the alleged Internal Revenue Service were not created by Congress. In this report you will learn how these are not organizations or agencies of the Department of the Treasury or of the federal government." The site goes on to show that "the current tax system is strictly voluntary."

It's a compelling and professionally designed site. But is it true? It's not easy to answer, and the Internet constantly confronts us with these sorts of things.

Another site I was encouraged to look at is Drugging America. Here you can learn about a book that details the U.S. government's involvement in drug trafficking and how the CIA actually set up the Colombian drug cartels.

According to the site, "Several dozen present and former government agents and operatives, and former drug traffickers, provide the author, Rodney Stich--also a former federal investigator--with thousands of hours of secret insider information, thousands of documents, and other data during the past 14 years, revealing the government's arrogant and sham war-on-drugs."

Or check out the Real History Archives: "This site is designed to provide researchers links and leads to finding solid information about our real history, as opposed to the convenient--if somewhat fake--history the 'mainstream' corporate press feeds us." Here you'll find research collections related to matters such as the assassination of President Kennedy, TWA Flight 800, Waco, and more. It also includes research collections on several acknowledged conspiracies, such as Iran-Contra.

These various versions of reality can be a bit disorienting, which may be why some governments try to control access to the Internet.

It's hard to know what to think about this, but it's clear that the Internet confronts you with perspectives that you may not have had to deal with in the past.

Maybe we can figure out a way to think about sites dealing with whomever or whatever it is that is conspiring to conceal the "real truth" from you.

First of all, it might be useful to position these sites on a spectrum. On the left we'll put sites like Beyond Roswell. These types of conspiracies are typically impossible to disprove and are based on special knowledge from secret, inside sources. Roswell proponents, who believe that an alien spaceship crashed in New Mexico in 1947, say that the relevant documents were destroyed. Well if they don't exist, how can a dupe like me figure out what's true?

On the other end of the spectrum might be well-informed sites that simply jar one's paradigm or frame of reference. Consider, for example, Alternative Radio and the Guardian. Such sources of information typically look at current events from quite a different perspective. The conspiracy that clouds our perception of the truth could be said to be the bias of the American media. These sites can possibly be useful, forcing one to examine one's biases while at the same time offering an opportunity to examine the biases of other perspectives.

If you come across a site that challenges your view of reality, it might help to locate it on this spectrum. For example, if you took the time to examine the above sites (which I haven't done), maybe you would place Tax Statement somewhere to the left, Drugging America toward the center, and Real History Archives right of center.

Also, it seems to me that if the conspiracy alleges that all power resides in some worldwide cabal pulling strings behind the scenes, whether government or corporate, it's suspect. And it's and old story, from Hitler's tales of conspiracies to Nero's blaming the burning of Rome on Christians.

And frankly, if a conspiracy theorist is utterly exasperated or angry that everyone doesn't immediately accept as true a particular point of view, I tend to doubt it. And if a theorist sees conspiracies everywhere, then I tend to see paranoia rather than conspiracy.

Anyway, you be the judge--the Internet gives you no choice.

© 2002 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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