Dig far enough into many significant social issues and you will often come across either a legitimate conspiracy or else a conspiracy theory at the heart of the matter.
Not surprisingly, people frequently confuse these two terms, sometimes because perpetrators of real conspiracies try to control the narrative to make it seem as though all criticism is just based on paranoia and thus a conspiracy theory. Examples of real conspiracies include the tobacco industry paying doctors to conceal the significant dangers of smoking, and more recently, Volkswagen and the German government conspiring to sell highly polluting diesel cars all around the world by cheating emissions tests.
Then there are conspiracy theories, often started to misinform people and shift blame away from the real culprits, including the ‘Pizzagate’ theory pushed by right-wing extremists and Trump supporters, that purported to link Hilary Clinton to a paedophile ring based out of a restaurant in Washington D.C., and lately Chinese government officials have been falsely claiming that the COVID-19 virus was brought to Wuhan and released there by the American military.
How can you separate fact from fiction? Luckily, this helpful handbook, The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, recently published to combat the rising tide of fake news and misinformation about climate change, offers some insightful checklists, flowcharts, comparisons and case studies to help everyone to determine whether or not there are real conspiracies at work, or just theories created and spread as fake news. The authors include the acronym CONSPIR for determining the credibility of conspiracies and theories, and it can also be useful when applied to questionable news stories in judging their veracity too.