Opinion | In the late Eighties and early Nineties, I was becoming an adolescent. I was growing up in a world where the youth would be the last generation to grow up entirely devoid of information overload most people experience in the palms of their hands today.
We had telephones, you had to be home to receive or make a call. If you wanted to stay abreast of local news and issues on the world’s political stage, you needed to watch live Television, read a newspaper, a magazine or a book.
We did have computers; they were desktops, cumbersome and pretty slow compared even to today’s cheapest machines. The internet existed in its infancy. My first experience going online was in the back of my fifth-grade class on an Apple IIe with a 2600 dial-up modem.
Back then, if you could afford or had access to a microcomputer and a modem, which could be purchased at any Radio Shack in the mall, you could connect to the world wide web and find a small number of text-only bulletin boards, which later became message boards and internet forums.
The format exists today in the form of topic and genre-specific boards. Although now you can compose elaborate messages using hi-res images, videos, and hyperlinks.
On the internet, there have always been reputable message boards as well as questionable forums and posts might contain spam or malware. One thing many of us early adopters of the tech learned, is how to navigate the web able to discern the two without getting caught up in a digital trap.
However, the younger generations seem to have taken advantage of the availability and accessibility of mass media today and have managed to exploit its benefits to many lengths.
It is wonderful to be able to speak a question into your phone and have a thousand search query results in a matter of seconds. Now you can video chat with anyone instead of waiting days to see if someone a few states away got your email, let alone anyone on the other side of the planet.
One big advantage that the internet provides us is the ability for anyone to have their voice heard, whether recording a song or blogging one’s perceptions of sociopolitical issues worldwide. One major disadvantage is that anyone can be anything and share any concept with millions of people in a matter of seconds. Scams have become more commonplace with predators hidden behind millions of bits of data capable of taking advantage of the less savvy. Mainstream and alternative media alike can dupe their followers into buying whatever narrative they can conjure.
While conspiracy theories have been around and growing in frequency and popularity for many generations, at no time in history have we seen such widespread awareness and distrust of any and all governing bodies around the world. Now we are seeing many of the longest-running conspiracy theories are finally being taken seriously by the mainstream media. For example, it is now well-known that consumer products from Monsanto and Johnson and Johnson can cause cancer. Chemtrails are now being reported as experimental geoengineering and weather modification. The sex crimes of the Vatican, famous billionaires, Hollywood celebrities and world leaders are finally coming to light.
We have had fun with conspiracies over the years. Some of us entertained the idea that the Apollo moon landing was faked. Flat Earth is another one that has generated interest in recent years. In the early 2000s, a forum called Above Top Secret brought us a man by the name of John Titor, claiming to be a military time traveler from the future come to warn us of catastrophic events to unfold from 2004 on. I often joke he might be Satoshi Nakamoto, the as of yet unknown creator of cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
However, not all conspiracy theories have merit or provide entertainment value, some of them are active disinformation campaigns. The worst of these campaigns in recent years has been the QAnon phenomenon.
Over the years, we have seen the emergence of two message board style websites by the name of 4chan and 8chan.
The latter has gone dark, as per its creator, after an investigation revealed the El Paso gunman used the site as a megaphone where he posted his four-page message prior to committing the heinous crime of mass murder and asked his “brothers” to spread his message far and wide.
The former, 4chan, was instrumental in helping the conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate go viral; allegations that members of the Democratic Party have engaged in a pedophile sex trafficking using Comet Ping Pong Pizza, in Washington DC, as a meeting place, which gave rise to an anonymous online entity known as QAnon, who may simply be a masterful troll.
QAnon began with posts by a user calling himself Q Clearance Patriot, a name which implies having a Q level security clearance with the United States Department of Energy, allowing access to top-secret data. A claim which clearly cannot be verified. It is believed by some that QAnon is more than one individual.
Since then QAnon’s posts have been quite cryptic, often deciphered by followers and fanatics to describe a secret plot by the “deep state” against US President Donald Trump and his supporters. The conspiracy theory has supporters among the mainstream media. Its supporters often gather at Trump rallies.
Most of the transmissions to come from QAnon have been blatant propaganda for the Trump administration, justifying every controversial policy with outlandish “4-D chess” scenarios that cast the president as a knight in shining armor, or some sort of revolutionary who is fighting for the common people. For example, the roll-out of the controversial 5G technology was opposed by many Trump supporters, but a recent transmission from QAnon insisted that the technology is harmless and should be supported.
While many conspiracy theories and fringe radicals can bring serious issues to light and rally people around a viable moral cause, and some can be entertaining, radicalizing extremists on either polar end of the political spectrum can prove quite dangerous.
The world relies on digital technology. In many respects, the internet and even certain social media outlets such as Facebook, with its membership around one-third of the world’s population, have reached a level of users that merits the status of utility.
Since the days of movies like War Games, Hackers and Jumping Jack Flash the internet has seen its fair share of malicious hackers preying on vulnerable users. However, it also allows groups like the global hacktivist collective Anonymous to rise from the depths of the world wide web, and every continent, to band together in binary unison to expose valid and well-researched news, with the help of sites like Wikileaks, in hopes of bringing due justice to those who have committed atrocities against mankind around the globe.
QAnon remains lurking in the shadows in the darkest corners of the internet, conveying mysterious messages left to be interpreted by the far-right, offering no help in making sense of the environmental chaos and economic turmoil which ensues at a staggering rate over every inch of our precious planet.
To add insult to injury, QAnon has soiled the good name of Anonymous, a serious hacking collective that is seeking justice for humanity. This is why it is important to be clear that we are not associated with this disinformation campaign.
If you subscribe to some of the most fringe cult followings, take caution to note it may better serve as entertainment, because scrutiny is of utmost importance in true journalism.
For the sake of journalistic integrity and in the spirit of freedom of speech.
We are legion, a word derived from Latin meaning we band together we gather facts. We do not forgive, from the Old English to grant. We will not allow alleged transgressions go unexamined regardless of economic or political clout. We do not forget, as well, from Old English to neglect. We shall not repeat the mistakes of the past.