It has been 20 years since the tragic events of September 11, and in those two decades the world has changed. The Pentagon has been repaired and New York City recovered, although the day has not been forgotten. In fact, just like December 7, 1941, the day of the end of summer will be remembered forever as it should be.
However, even after all these years, the movement for the truth about 9/11 continues, as do the myriad conspiracy theories. Even though the official report should refute the more dubious claims – “jet fuel cannot melt steel beams” or that the World Trade Center twin towers were blown up by explosives – conspiracy theories continue and are widely shared on social networks.
“September 11 was the first major crisis to take place in the age of social media,” said Professor Sinnreich. “While MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube didn’t exist, there were proto-versions of other social media sites, and Web 2.0 was already starting to show the ability of viral media to be shared.”
This of course included the footage of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, the buildings collapsing and the aftermath, as many people were covered in dust.
“So many feelings could be condensed into a few megabytes and shared around the world,” Sinnreich added.
But just as early social media made it possible to share the events of 9/11, it also created an opportunity for conspiracies to grow faster. In the pre-Internet era, conspiracy theories were largely confined to books and magazines, and perhaps a few radio programs. The Internet has enabled real-time evolution where like-minded people can more easily communicate and share their opinions.
Social media amplified this even further – and it continues today with QAnon, the origin of Covid-19, and more specifically the 2016 and 2020 election results.
“There has been a long prehistory of conspiracy theories in the political space,” Sinnreich said. “September 11 allowed disinformation to spread on both sides. From the far left came these theories which cast doubt on the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s presidency and its possible involvement, but from the far right there were these theories. that a powerful cabal was secretly pulling the strings and was somehow involved. “
Uncontrolled information sharing
September 11 was arguably the first major cable news event to dominate the 24-hour news cycle. From the minutes the first plane hit the towers, every TV channel covered it throughout the day, and in the days that followed, that was the main story on cable news channels.
Misinformation occurred throughout that day, including reports that there had been a car bomb at the State Department. This turned out to be wrong, but the media also took the plunge by reporting that WTC Tower 7 had collapsed. This has proven to play into conspiracies, but where the mainstream media can correct their mistakes and clarify the details, the same cannot be said of social media.
“The 9/11 theories were fueled by the social media infrastructure that allows content to bypass traditional media gatekeepers who would scrutinize it carefully before reaching the general public,” Sinnreich explained.
“Social media allows these kinds of conspiracies to be discriminated against in a totally out of control way,” added Dr. Kurt Braddock, associate professor in the School of Communication at American University. “There is already so much misinformation and misinformation, and with conspiracy theories, social media is able to give it a platform where they create a community for those who believe. This in turn creates a chamber of echo, and once you’re convinced that might be true, there’s no argument.
The amplified echo chamber
Today this echo chamber is amplified due to the division in our country, but when it comes to conspiracy theories, like-minded people are so quick to support one another, like the noted Dr Braddock, this resulted in an online community.
“We also see that people who believe in a conspiracy find it difficult to convince themselves otherwise, because it is part of their reality and their identity,” Braddock said. “Arguing with them and even presenting facts is a threat to their belief structure. “
These people often do not want to debate a plot and instead seek to push their argument as if it were a scripture.
“The hallmark of a conspiracy theory is that it is often invulnerable to attack, although sometimes it doesn’t make sense,” Sinnreich said. “The ability of people to ‘believe’ exceeds the mental ability to look at logical evidence. This is nothing new, as people can be good enough at making these theories to make them seem reasonable.”
This is certainly important to consider, as many of the original 9/11 conspiracy theories did not come true. If this was an indoor job, the question is why? President Bush stepped down in 2009, so there was no fascist takeover, as some had predicted.
“Conspiracies take shape when people cannot understand the facts as they are presented, then they create their own version of events, and these continue to live on via social media,” Braddock said. “When some aspect of the theory didn’t come true, it became part of the plot.”
The 9/11 conspiracies can also endure because the terrible events started at the start of the social media era and, for some, are still here.
“It’s because of the ubiquitous nature of social media – it’s accessed on your phone, your home computer, your work computer, you live with it all the time,” said Kenneth Gray, senior lecturer in the department. of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven. “This is why the theories of 9/11 continue to this day.”
Trolls rather than evangelists
Another reason some of the 9/11 conspiracies continue is not because some people actually believe them, but because the theories actually spread disinformation.
“This is actually a form of online trolling that has been seen on platforms such as 4chan, but increasingly social media is allowing trolls to profit from the effects of their conspiracy theories,” added Gray. “Some of the people who responded are playing with it to take advantage of the effects, but others see it as gossip, as an alternative point of view. It may go against the facts, but they still believe the story. “