The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Conspiracy chaos: unfounded theories take over social media

Following the devastating collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, conspiracy theorists on social media have run rampant with a wide range of conspiracies surrounding the crash. Conspiracies ranged from the Dali cargo ship purposefully turning toward the bridge at the last minute to make direct contact, controlled explosives placed at specific spots on the bridge and major port access points being blocked off to alter the ship’s course.

Of course, these conspiracies are baseless and insulting to the victims of this tragedy. Not only did the ship receive engine maintenance the day of the accident, crew members also sent out distress signals that allowed Baltimore authorities to close the bridge and prevent additional casualties.

However, these conspiracies are representative of a growing problem on social media where it becomes impossible to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Even before the Baltimore bridge collapse, X, TikTok and other social media platforms have become a breeding ground for wild conspiracies.

Recently social media apps were swirling conspiracy theories about the absence of Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales. After people noticed that they hadn’t seen Middleton in the media in a while, users took to social media with conspiracies of varying seriousness regarding her absence. Much of this speculation was fueled by the Associated Press’ retraction of a doctored photo of Middleton and her family.

After it came out that Middleton was absent from the media due to her battle with cancer, discourse on the topic shifted with many people expressing they felt embarrassed for theorizing so hard. While some people guessed that Middleton was being held against her will in a mental institution she was really recovering from a surgery and battling cancer privately. The crazy and embarrassing theories turned out not only to be false, but cruel. While we are not Royal Family apologists, it is concerning to us that our social media platforms have essentially turned into tabloid-esque outlets for regular people to spout untrue and damaging conspiracies.

However, it does not change the fact that sowing this style of disinformation for clicks and views is inherently problematic because of the power social media holds in shaping the public’s understanding of current events. An oversaturation of disinformation, which can make it difficult for users to sift through what’s true or not, can further develop delusional and detrimental discourse.

Not everything is a hoax or conspiracy theory, despite what social media leads people to believe. This becomes even more problematic when this sort of message is spread to impressionable social media users who might not fact-check information themselves.  

Whether the posts are serious, or aim more to boost engagement, they often take things too far. Especially in instances like the Baltimore bridge collapse where people lost their lives, it is insensitive and to spread these bizarre theories that make light or question the legitimacy of these deaths.

This is a reminder of infamous right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his lawsuit that stemmed from statements he made regarding the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting: perpetuating unfounded allegations and conspiracies can have damaging effects on grieving families. While Jones has made a career out of unsubstantiated claims, the Sandy Hook shooting proved to be a major turning point in the prevalence of conspiracies in our culture because of the emergence of social media. 

Social media makes it incredibly easy for theorists like Jones to have not only a platform, but it gives them a community to escalate their theories. Whether users are entirely serious like Jones when they are posting, or if they are satirical, there are still negative consequences.

Take a step back and assess the impact that you might have on the families and people involved, after all, these are real humans and there are real life consequences to what you say. Just ask Alex Jones.

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