Library hosts conspiracy theory education event

By Aprille Gozdecki, Mar. 23, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona’s University Library hosted Beyond Tin Foil Hats: Exploring the World of Conspiracy Theories, a March 16 event showing students what conspiracy theories are, why they spread and how they have affected history.

The workshop, hosted by Library Instruction Coordinator Shonn Haren, also showed students how contemporary theories are different from historical conspiracies. Topics included in the event were the QAnon conspiracy theory, the flat Earth conspiracy theory, the fake moon landing and President Lincoln and Julius Ceasar’s assassinations.

“Conspiracy theories have affected the way that certain news is driven, in the way that political movements are currently forming and the way that, in general, under certain circumstances this is actually pathological to the body politic,” said Haren. “It can create very dangerous situations where people who are trying to fight phantoms end up damaging our government and nation.”

A conspiracy theory is a belief that some covert, but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event. People who believe in conspiracy theories will tend to disregard any information that might disprove the theory.

Haren began by connecting the Jan. 6 riot with the QAnon conspiracy theory. He went on to explain why QAnon is a conspiracy theory by comparing it to other conspiracy theories that have evolved over time, such as the flat Earth theory, the anti-vaccine theory and the fake moon landing theory.

Haren pointed out that conspiracy theories usually happen on the fringe of society with the “guys in their basements or garages with bulletin boards and lines drawn all over them,” so initially, a theory holds no threat. However, with the internet serving to spread these theories, they can grow more powerful.

“With the internet and social media, these folks have found their community and, as they have, conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking has really exploded and has become much more influential in the way that people think,” said Haren.

The storming of the Capitol led Mario Guerrero, chair and associate professor in the Department of Political Science, to believe that conspiracy theories have become a serious issue in the politics people subscribe to.

“Conspiracy theories have really grown in providence in the political realm, definitely in the last four years, but really since the advent of cable news and the internet,” said Guerrero. “It has become dangerous and has led to violence.”

Guerrero believes that conspiracy theories have made political conversation near impossible when people do not agree on the same set of facts.

The event evolved by contrasting the conspiracy theories with real world conspiracies that took place throughout history, such as the assassinations of both Caesar and Lincoln.

“The difference between these two is, this is what a conspiracy theorist’s views about how conspiracies work in society and it doesn’t look anything like an actual historical conspiracy,” said Haren. “Because historical conspiracies usually involved a limited amount of people with limited objectives and how there were unforeseen consequences that caused problems with these conspiracies or ultimately led to their downfall.”

Haren hopes that after attending this event, students will consider conspiracy theories and see the reality of real-world conspiracies as opposed to how some people change the narrative to fit their theory.

Citlalli Vazquez, a third-year civil engineering student who attended the event, was introduced to the never-ending world of conspiracy theories.

“It was a fun event,” said Vazquez. “The Tin Foil Hats caught my attention, and I didn’t know what conspiracy theories were, so I wanted to find out.”

“The information was overwhelming, since I had never heard of them before this event,” said Vazquez. “But I definitely believe in the existence of conspiracy theories now.”

Haren wants to continue to hold this workshop and refine the content. He also will be hosting other workshops centered around citizen literacy, fake news and how to determine who is an expert in this society, starting in the fall semester.

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