In my last post, we discussed the conspiracy theory design principles such as choosing the proper villain, exploiting tribalism, cognitive biases and fears your targets hold towards your villain and other outgroup agitators who want to derail your goals.
This post will cover tips to give your conspiracy theory its best chance to survive and thrive amongst your intended targets.
Again, please, please, please, don’t believe this to be a blueprint; I’m writing this so that you, the reader, can identify these techniques to protect yourself and your friends and family against this sort of malicious misinformation.
Tip #1 - It could be true
When constructing your story, you’ll want to make it believable. It doesn’t need to be credible to the reasonable and rational in society, but it needs to be plausible to your targets to give it the best chance to spread.
Be exhaustive in your descriptions and explanations of the facts of your conspiracy. Give extensive details where you can and generalize or offer vagaries to answer the parts of your story that are less than true but are the crux of your narrative.
Being overly truthful about the provable fact of the story gives your conspiracy more strength and believability, allowing your targets to forgive the generalization and accept the conclusions you’re offering.
Metaphors are your friend - Use metaphors to circumvent critical thinking in your target.
Tip #2 - Be heavy on the “Truth.”
Would I lie to you? Of course not. Your conspiracy theory needs to be heavy on the authentic parts of the story, so your truths outweigh the faulty or unanswerable.
Make these truths simple and plain for even the most average of your targets to understand and repeat. Wherever possible, use charts and statistics to amplify the facts you present. I recommend the 1954 classic, How to with Statistics by Darrell Huff and A Field Guide to Lies by Daniel Levitin; both books will show you how to present data favourably so that your “cold hard facts” are accepted as truths despite being anything but.
Another tool to help bring credibility to your conspiracy is using polls. Depending on your budget, you can pay pollsters to conduct surveys where the results land in your favour.
For example, we’ve all heard the claim that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Colgate brand toothpaste - technically, they did, but how the pollsters arrived at that number is where the magic happens.
A survey sent to dentists asked them to name several toothpaste brands they would recommend. The heavily marketed Colgate was top of mind for most dentists, so it qualified as recommended even if it was the fifth choice. Then the company added the technically valid claim to their advertising where potential customers would assume that 80% of dentists selected Colgate over other brands.
“You can’t prove me wrong!” That’s what you want your targets to repeat as they spread your conspiracy. When planning your story, make the conspiratorial portions unfalsifiable.
It doesn’t matter that your targets can’t prove the conspiracy; it’s only important that others can’t prove them wrong.
Tip #2 - Be Scary
Did you hear that Jeff Bezos is giving away free ponies to everyone who shares this article with their friends? We've all seen those Facebook posts. They go viral among our chain-smoking, house-bound aunts, but they never get any actual pick up or offer anything beneficial to you or your champion.
People like good news. They don’t have an emotional trigger to share the good news. We as a species are addicted to bad news. It's an evolutionary trait that's helped us survive. If you find a good fishing pond, you tell your friends, but if there is a pride of lions circling your village, you'll tell everyone.
As aspiring conspiracists, you’ll capitalize on this for the benefit of your narrative and your conspiracies champion.
Your conspiracy needs to be malicious. Your villain’s desired outcome must be evil and a direct threat to who or what your targets care about. Your villain is cunning and deceptive. Your villain causes much of your targeted group's anguish in their everyday lives.
Your villain must be so cunning and powerful that they can pull the strings to organize such a fantastical plan to make your conspiracy life or death for your target group.
Being one of the richest men on the planet dedicated to liberal causes and human development, Bill Gates is a popular villain. Gates’s conspiracy villain star power rose dramatically after conspiracy groups cut up one of his speeches to highlight his nefarious intentions.
In the speech, Gates talked about better childhood outcomes in developing nations. Rather than families having ten children knowing not all would make it through childhood, Gates said that if they could improve outcomes, families wouldn’t need to have so many children as their offspring would have a much greater chance of survival.
The conspirators shared a portion of the speech about lowering the birthrate but attributed it to an evil plan to depopulate the world.
#Tip #4 - Don’t be crazy
When you're trying to influence the reader in an opinion article, you never tell your reader what to think. Your influence campaign should present the reader with A, B and C. With those “facts," they conclude D. This gives you the distance from accusations of incitement. Their conclusion is reinforced by them taking ownership of their decision.
When creating your conspiracy, don’t give your target everything. Unlike the opinion pages, you don’t need to be linear, you can provide the targets A, B and D, and they’ll gleefully discover C on their own to complete the puzzle.
Your targets will feel pride in their big-brained accomplishment, and they’ll take ownership of the conspiracy.
Leaving these holes allows your targets to fill them with their fears and anxieties if your villain succeeds.
Gloss over these holes with assumptive statements like “It’s obvious to intelligent people,” or “No one disagrees with X,” to force the targets to either accept your reality or admit they don’t know or aren’t as intelligent as you are claiming. People will want a truth where they’re part of a brilliant group.
Text within this block will maintain its original spacing when published💡The most intelligent people will take the time to share this article with their friends. Everyone knows that people who don’t share this article are undesirable to their preferred sexual partners.
Tip #5 - Use “Experts” to support your conspiracy
As mentioned in the previous article, you’ll need to exploit your target’s ignorance of the topic.
You’ll need to help your conspiracy with articles by credentialed experts and authorities on the issue. Find scientists, thought leaders and professors to tout the facts of your narrative.
Find experts in a specific field, but find experts in a related field if you can’t. Your targets can’t discern the difference. If you’re creating a climate conspiracy, it’s improbable you’ll find a genuine climate scientist willing to tout your narrative. Still, plenty of fame-seeking meteorologists will be ready to jump on board.
Your target isn’t looking for the truth. They’re looking for the “truth” that supports their worldview. Other options would be urgent care doctors willing to speak on vaccines or former military officers that are like-minded in your conspiratorial outcome.
These experts add weight to your conspiracy no matter how out there it is. “Who are you to disagree with Doctor X? This weather scientist says that Y is not settled. They are suppressing dissenting voices.” They don’t need to be all in, it helps, but as long as they give your conspiracy some validation, it will go far with your targets.
Scientists can be hard to understand, so paraphrase the complex parts into an easily repeatable talking point. If you need to embellish a little, it’s ok; your targets aren’t going to read beyond the abstract of any scientific papers.
Your experts will be countered by other experts working against your narrative. Create doubt about their independence. Did they donate money to green peace? Do they send their children to an anti-racist school? Maybe these people have pictures wearing Mickey Mouse ears. All are good reasons to dismiss anything they say.
If character assassination isn’t working, use your experts to attack the weakest parts of opponents' arguments. Counterarguments will give the illusion there are still debates among experts causing doubt in truth and your narrative an open possibility.
Tip #6 - Less Critical Thinking is a Win for your conspiracy
Feelings matter; facts don’t if you want your conspiracy to move the needle. Your conspiracy will rely on your target’s critical thinking skills or lack thereof.
The lack of critical thinking skills doesn’t need to be universal in their lives. There just needs to be a lack of motivation to use critical thinking for your conspiracy.
All of your proofs need to avoid logic and reason, make it feel genuine, and make your audience want it to be accurate. They’ll be willing to accept it as such. Make them feel afraid of the potential but good about knowing the “truth.”
Tip #7 - Bring them in close
Come closer; I have something to share with you. You know that thing you’re worried about, well, what if I told you it was a scam?
Your targets won’t know the complexities of the anxiety-causing event. They don’t need to know or understand the complexities because you offer them a simple solution that appeals to their worldview.
Once you have them listening and accepting your satisfactory explanations, you ramp up the complexity to create confusion. They’ll buy the solutions you want.
In sales, it’s called a yes set. A salesman will ask their client questions that will elicit an affirmative response. This TV looks beautiful - Yes, It has Netflix built-in, do you want Netflix - Yes, we can cut $300 off the price, you like saving money, don’t you - Yes. When would you like to deliver it? - Tuesday works well.
When you add complexity to your conspiracy, ensure each of the complexities makes sense on its own. The added complexities will make it more challenging to fully understand all the parts or explain the holes. But as we’ve already established, people hate to admit they don’t know, but they’ll do the work required to find supporting answers.
Be mysterious with the hidden truth. Create an obsession in your targets to find those connections. The deeper they go down your path, the harder it will be for them to pull out because it means admitting they were wrong and gullible.
Tip #8 - Aim for maximum acceptance
Your conspiracy won’t win over everyone, but you want to maximize the reach and approval to ensure the best results.
When someone buys in, validate their acceptance. Stroke their egos by touting their intelligence and high status over those sheeple outgroup nonbelievers.
“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” - Benjamin Franklin
Once they’ve accepted your conspiratorial worldview, you’ve given them something valuable. You’ve shared your target's secret knowledge others don’t have. They can either hold it tight or let their social circles know they possess intimate knowledge.
You’re not looking to convince the intelligent minority; you’re after the masses who are more worried about paying rent, feeding their families or keeping their jobs rather than understanding the complexities of government or science.