ESOTERIC MEMES, CONSPIRACY THEORIES
Chanology has been playing dangerously with conspiracy theories’ narrative style since the get go. In the grey areas between joke and delirium, you will find fake conspiracies such as «dolphins are evil and willing to exterminate the human race», or «birds were made by CIA to spy on us», mixed with fake news, disruptive rumors and/or actual journalistic investigations trying to concede the benefit of doubt to mystical theories or weird enigmas. These fascinating suggestions leave the user confused, but eager to dig deeper down the rabbit hole.
Curiosity is the driving force of the internet. So who are we to draw a line between true and fake, disguised propaganda or rightful inquiry? And yet a line must be drawn.
In recent months we happened to witness what we could define the Second Great War of Memes. Following the 2020 pandemic, we have been forced to increase our online activity. The same was true for many digitally illiterate users who, often for the first time in their lives, had to deal intensively with social media and group chats. Users without "antibodies' thus found themselves, unwillingly and unknowingly, teleported right in the middle of a new meme war.
On the subreddit r/QAnonCasualties, desperate friends and relatives have described how their loved ones fell into the nets of the Qanon cult. The victims are often “normies”, completely alien to subcultural online life, suddenly trapped in the Qanon funnel: a dark, twisted MMorpg, mixing ancient antisemitic narratives and modern conspiracy theories to portray Trump as a “saviour” fighting an international “cabal” of evil, powerful pedophiles.
Qanon was able to penetrate many different social media bubbles by appropriating their symbols and aesthetics and by channeling their fears. We need to distinguish disruptive forms of propaganda, disguised as fake subcultural conspiracies, from legitimate doubts about the official truths provided by media and governments, while also learning to harness the power of mythologies and esoteric symbolism for positive goals.