I’m not going to share the video here, but I recently stumbled across a video on social media describing all of the ways that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax or government conspiracy, many of them involving the image above. As long-time readers are aware, I’ve been on a campaign against internet memes and the sharing of social media posts that are fallacious, false, or lack fact-checking. In brief, here’s why:
I understand many people share these memes without fact-checking and without being sure for themselves whether they’re true or not, probably not putting much thought at all into it, or if they do, thinking it’s harmless. However, I’m not convinced it is harmless. What I see is these memes slowly planting the seeds that are blooming into a culture war. Maybe you’re not sure whether or not there’s a massive government conspiracy, but that idea gets planted there. And the more we see these things, the more they can rile us up and make us suspicious, and leave subtle subconscious imprints on our minds. And they certainly all focus on creating an “us vs. them” mentality.
So after seeing that video today, I researched and saw there was very little debunking that had been done. I spent some time doing my own.
Pre-Shooting Memorial Video
First, there’s a guy who supposedly tweeted a memorial video about the victims of Sandy Hook before the shooting even took place. There is a google cache of a tweet from this user that links to a Vimeo video, but it is only titled “My Video.” There is a screen capture of that tweet linking to the Sandy Hook memorial video. Everything related to this has been deleted, so it’s hard to find originals, but reportedly the creator of the video explained the discrepancy this way:
“it is unbelievable what has created such a domino effect of suspicious and cynical people! First of all YouTube and Vimeo are 2 separate websites. Vimeo I pay for and use it as a storage for music videos I make that are blocked by YouTube copyright issues. On Vimeo there are times if you wish to delete any video and replace it with another, the date remains the same from the original date the original video (being replaced) Got that so far? I do this multiple times if I decide not to pay for additional bandwidth space if I choose to upload more than allowed for the month. It’s so sad and disgraceful that people would spread such a conspiracy of sort that I’m doing something wrong. I’ve been entertainer millions of people all over the world with music videos for 2 years now and never had anything like this before. Too bad it has to be a memorial video! Now, give this to all the people you know or may know to end this crap now. Amazing how rumors spread by ignorant people that condemn someone on mere suspicion they manifest in their our minds. WISE UP!”
In this video below, I take a two year old Vimeo video of mine, change the title and the video – and it still shows up as being two years old even though everything about it is different, thus verifying the possibility that the statement above is correct:
It took a while for Vimeo to process it fully, but you can see the final product here for verification:https://vimeo.com/18793500
Another claims a youcaring.com fundraiser was created for Sandy Hook before it occurred, with a Google cache page verifying that a fundraising project was posted several days before the shooting. Not only does the woman who created that fundraiser explained she changed an old fundraiser after the shooting happend, but I signed up for the very same website and tried it out. It took a little while for the results to update, but I was able to edit mine:
Again, this is similar to the Vimeo video – content that was created earlier, but then updated after the Sandy Hook shootings. Here’s the final product of my fundraiser: Here’s the final product: http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/Sandhook-Support/39358
Much of the conspiracy is around websites that have been deleted – and the deletion is part of the conspiracy. Unlike the two above, there aren’t Google caches to back these up, just screen shots. The problem is, screenshots are so easy to manipulate. I give an example here, using an image that was circulated from yourcaring.com, even though I’ve already explained that one in a different way. I don’t make any claims at being a Photoshop wiz, either:
Some others were already well debunked, so briefly:
- There are claims that one of the children who was murdered appeared a few days later in an official photo shoot with Obama. But it’s pretty clearly her little sister. Check out this page for more photos: http://metabunk.org/threads/1054-Debunked-Emily-Parker-Still-Alive-after-Sandy-Hook
- As far as the car that was found on the scene and questions about who it belonged to, you can find the full police scanner audio files here, with an explanation of how the included audio is from other events going on: http://joequinn.net/2013/01/11/sandy-hook-and-christopher-rodia-most-conspiracy-theorists-cant-think/
- More on the web of community and how people actually know the people who were affected by this: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/sandy-hook-conspiracy/
Why It Matters
A functioning society is reliant upon some degree of trust. I’m a philosopher, and by nature I lean toward questioning everything.
Steven Novella hits that point well here:
This may sound strange, but I think that conspiracy theorists do play an important role in a democracy. It is good to have people who question everything about what is reported by the media and the government. It is good not to be complacent about the information we are given. At the very least it forces us to ask – how do we really know what happened? Is there sufficient transparency in the system? Are the media doing their job?
In fact, my primary criticism of most conspiracy theorists is not that they are asking these questions, but rather that they are doing a poor job of filling this role. Their musings are often so absurd, their logic so flawed, and their conclusions so bizarre that they invite any rational person to dismiss their claims out of hand. If they did a better job at being the conspiracy theorist, they would better serve the function of fighting against the complacency they so often criticize.
In fact, I am not the only one to make this observation (that conspiracy theorists often do a transparently bad job). In fact, some conspiracy theorists have accused other conspiracy theorists of being part of a meta-conspiracy to discredit conspiracy theorists. Actually I think they accomplish that all on their own.
So yes, asking questions can be good – but how we ask them matters. And it can be harmful to share things that are false or fallacious. When we’re constantly bombarded by conspiracy theories and rabble-rousing memes, it breaks down our ability as a nation to trust each other enough to have discussions and actually solve real problems.
Millions of people aren’t completely disregarding blatant inconsistencies these conspiracy theories are promoting, rather, they’re in some form or another applying Occam’s Razor, whether they know the term for it or not. This principle, widely used in science and philosophy, says that all other things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best explanation. It’s a pretty good guideline to follow for inquiry.
Conspiracy theories and memes side step this thinking process because they have emotional hooks.
They make a complicated world easier to process because they divide the world into easy groups – evil people orchestrating massive plots, and the good guys fighting to uncover them, as well as the “sheeple” that don’t get it. Really things are always much more grey, though. Everyone has potential for good and bad, and different levels of talent for different things. Ranting against a huge conspiracy is easier than actually dealing with issues like mental health and gun control.
At best, it’s a distraction from what matters. At worst, it gradually breaks down the ability for groups with different opinions to actually converse and solve problems.
Below is another debunking regarding the Facebook page that was created for one of the victims days before the shooting. If you do not create a URL for the page when you are setting it up, then anytime you change the name of the page, it changes the URL of the page as well, and retains the same time/day of creation as the original page with a different name:
Submit further debunking info here and I will be happy to add it to this post. I would love to thoroughly debunk every single claim that has been made.
I’m also planning to follow-up with a post on the psychology of conspiracy theorists, and do my best to consider how we can combat this problem.
Update 1/16/13 11:24 am
Just a brief overview of some of the harm that sharing these conspiracy theories causes: