Feel like your tutor hates you? Unhappy with the new SRC president? Worry that there’s a coordinated campaign to ensure you don’t pass your exam? Congratulations! You have the seedlings of a conspiracy theory in the palm of your hands, ready to be planted in the minds of your will-be-believers. Just follow these eight easy steps and watch as it wreaks suffering upon your enemies.
Step 1: Keep it vague
All you need to do is lead your herd to water; they’ll start drinking it by themselves. After subscribing to the “Paul is dead” hypothesis, proponents discovered “evidence” probably never intended by the myth’s original purveyor: Is John saying, “Paul is dead, man. Miss him, miss him, miss him,” when you play “I’m So Tired” in reverse? Does “LMW 28IF” — the Volkswagen Beetle’s licence plate on the cover of Abbey Road — stand for “Linda McCartney Weeps” and Paul would be 28 if he was still alive in 1969?
Our minds are made to recognise arbitrary patterns in seemingly random events, so float the premise but leave enough room for your amateur sleuths to decipher clues without assistance. Spelling it out isn’t much fun for anyone.
Step 2: Piggyback off other conspiracy theories
Nothing exists in a vacuum, and neither should your conspiracy theory. For all the hullaballoo about the uniqueness of QAnon, it’s basically just reheated Pizzagate, peppered with some antisemitic blood libel, and served with an unsavoury side of Satanic panic. You want to position yourself within the larger conspiracy-verse for maximum exposure. Don’t be surprised if other tricksters piggyback off your brand to further their own agenda. Being accommodating to localised delusions is how the initially US-centric QAnon managed to flourish in places as disparate as Australia, Nigeria, and Japan. Hopefully you’ll be able to nab a few “Mossad deployed remote control sharks off the Sinai to disrupt Egyptian tourism” devotees along the way.
Step 3: Embrace the contradictions
Try throwing a random bunch of your favourite alternative facts at the wall and see what sticks. It might seem strange to synthesise “the moon is a hologram” theory with “Nazis went to the moon” but have a go anyway. Conspiracy theories are often contradictory — e.g., Princess Diana simultaneously faked her own death and was assassinated according to some respondents in a 2012 study — because distrust of the “official narrative” is what’s most important.
Decoupling your audience from the laws of reality may also help your increasingly outrageous ideas appear more palatable. Like how some antivaxxers are terrified of the dangers of a TGA-approved vaccine but willingly take horse dewormer, you ideally want to make logical consistency superfluous.
Step 4: Pick your platform
Where you choose to spruik your conspiracy theory is as important as what you’re actually saying. Post where your followers will likely reside, or some place that symbolically reinforces your message. The Boomer-targeted “Australia isn’t real” conspiracy theory, unsurprisingly, began on Facebook. By contrast, the belief that the Illuminati are nefarious secret rulers of the world spawned from a series of bogus letters to the editor published in the (typically hidden) pages of Playboy magazine. Consider employing a blue ocean strategy and infiltrate a forum that hasn’t already been oversaturated with other likeminded schemers. Could you start the world’s first LinkedIn-centric conspiracy theory?
Step 5: Implicate everyone
Make sure to cast your net as wide as humanly possible. Everybody hates somebody, so use that to your advantage. And, as Mel Gibson’s character discovers in Conspiracy Theory, if you espouse thousands of unverified conspiracy theories, you’re bound to land on something that resembles the truth. Attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election, Trump attorney Sidney Powell followed this line of attack, accusing China, Cuba, the CIA, the Clinton Foundation, Smartmatic, Dominion Voting Systems, the DNC, the Republican establishment, George Soros, and even the corpse of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of voter fraud.
But why just stop at dead South American leaders? Go across the entire political spectrum. Blame the rich. Blame the poor. Blame people who wear overalls. And don’t just blame people. Blame aardvarks and echidnas and extraterrestrials too! (Just make sure to hire a good defamation lawyer: aardvarks are notoriously litigious.)
Step 6: Get a celebrity endorsement
Often one of the most overlooked ways of catapulting your conspiracy theory from the fringe to the mainstream, but there’s a reason why it’s a staple of the advertising industry. After centuries of dormancy, Flat Earth got a renaissance when Kyrie Irving and Tila Tequila began touting its talking points and re-entered the weird news cycle when B.o.B. started a GoFundMe campaign to launch a satellite into space that would finally prove that there’s no curve.
Still struggling to find a celebrity endorsement? Just invoke the name of a famous individual to harness the awesome power of search engine optimisation. Google “Iran” and “Michael Jackson” (the two biggest stories of June 2009) and you’ll soon discover that smooth criminals from the Islamic Republic purportedly assassinated the King of Pop. If you’re feeling generous, I’d give some has-beens a bit of love. Perhaps your favourite washed-up Disney Channel star who “knew too much” was thrown into a wormhole by an undisclosed government agency.
Step 7: Monetise
You’ve created a conspiracy theory that has seeped into every crevasse of society and culture. Now what? An ethical person may feel obliged to correct their mistake before someone gets seriously hurt. But you’re clearly not an ethical person.
One sure-fire way to fund your assault on trusted public institutions is through merch. Self-described health coach Pete Evans has channelled his pseudoscience advocacy into a profitable business strategy by hawking cookbooks, dietary supplements, a $14,990 “BioCharger” (marketed as a cure for COVID-19), a media network, and spots in his future commune. If your conspiracy theory is location-based, however, consult with a local government representative to capitalise on potential tourism opportunities. For inspiration, see Roswell, New Mexico: a once sleepy town that has since become a Mecca for budding ufologists. Find your own niche and try branching out into new and exciting areas like soaps, keychains or — even better — paywalled erotic fanfic.
Step 8: Deny culpability
Now that you’re rich and famous, haters will invariably seek to bring you down, so be prepared to deny culpability as vehemently as you denied the reputability of doctors, governments, and the Coca-Cola Company. You could always go down the Alex Jones route and have your lawyer claim you’re a “performance artist”. Alternatively, you could follow in the footsteps of 8chan’s Ron Watkins (allegedly the man behind Q) and hitch your wagon to another conspiracy theory now that you’ve done milking this one for all its worth.
Just don’t tell anyone you got your ideas from me.