New group seeks to combat misinformation about misinformation
Platforms are rooting out posts and videos that spread unfounded conspiracy theories. But many of them are conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories.
Ken Kellerman of the Institute for Truth in Truth has been tracking online stories for the last six years. But as political differences and echo-chamber mentalities have increased, he has noticed a disturbing trend. “It used to be that when people called out a crazy conspiracy, that was that,” he said. “But now their challenge too often takes the form of an even crazier conspiracy.”
Kellerman walked to a giant whiteboard. “This is our map of CACs, or Conspiracies about Conspiracies.” He took out an old-fashioned telescoping pointer. “See,” he said, tapping at the top right corner, “there was one video that said that the QAnon people were all aliens, because, it was claimed, non-human DNA had been detected on a plate in a pizza place that the QAnon people stormed under the belief that it was a way station for child traffickers. But they were not, of course, aliens. The non-human DNA however was from a dog hair in the pizza place, which is disgusting, but not alien.”
NOT THE ONLY EXAMPLE
“It is not the only example,” he said. He tapped his pointer on another corner of the board and explained that the Institute, in the course of tracking Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s claim about a “Jewish space laser” that caused the California wildfires, they turned up another CAC. “Her ideas are nuts, obviously,” he said. “I’m talking peanut plus almond plus cashew: nuts nuts nuts. But a radio show debunking it suggested that Greene is actually the illegitimate daughter of famous radio and television comedian Fred Allen, who is now working for the Joe Rogan podcast and crafting new COVID misinformation.”
Kellerman laughed derisively. “That’s impossible, since he died in 1956 and she wasn’t born until 1974. And why would Fred Allen, even if he was alive 60 years after his death, be a COVID skeptic? Though the site has an explanation for that. It says that he was kept in suspended animation for 19 years by scientists .’Nineteen equals nineteen,’ they say, which is true but not germane.”
The Institute for Truth in Truth releases a daily newsletter that debunks any inaccurate debunkers while still reminding readers that they should not believe the original theories. “They say that two wrongs don’t make a right, but if you have a wrong and then a right-minded analysis of it that repeats some of the same wrong habits, well, then what do they say, right?” Kellerman said. He did not specify who “they” were.
Kellerman says that conspiracies about conspiracies have even reached his office. “If you believe them, I am a Russian agent, half-robot, half-lizard, half-futuristic being who evades all known identities and genders. They claim that I am trying to destroy American freedom by destroying conspiracies, which, according to the site, are an example of American freedom.”
Kellerman retracted his pointer. “Call them. You’ll see.”
The number he furnished connected to a lumberyard where the man answering would identify himself only as “Olaf” and kept repeating a series of numbers. “Eight nine one,” he said. “Eight nine one. That’s the failsafe override for bio-infiltration. Do not make physical contact with Agent Kellerman.”
Eventually, another voice came to the phone. “Hello? This is Anita, from the Institute. We met the other day when you were interviewing Ken. There is no Olaf and no lumberyard. The number he gave you is an extension here at the Institute. This is just his little joke.” A piercing noise sounded behind Anita. “Gotta go,” she said, the tone in her voice betraying anxiety. “Lunchtime.”
The following day, the Institute was gone. In its place was a parking lot filled with cars that seemed to glow ever so slightly.
Kellerman could not be reached for comment