I won’t ever forget September 11th, 2001, nor will I ever forget the day I sat in my basement and watched hours of YouTube conspiracy theories blaming the US government for the attacks. I will start by saying that I do not believe the government was behind the 9/11 attacks. and I am deeply sympathetic for everyone who lost someone that day, but the magnitude of the implications if the theories were true made for a wildly entertaining and thought-provoking experience. Later that same day, sitting in my rolling computer chair in front of an old desktop from the prehistoric ages, my new love for conspiracy theories illuminated my future career plans—I was going to be a lawyer.
While anybody with some interesting camera footage or a couple crazy ideas can come up with a “conspiracy theory” and lawyers require years of schooling, testing, and experience before presenting their first opening argument in the courtroom, I would argue that both conspiracy theorists and lawyers sometimes do a very similar task. Imagine a court case where the prosecution firmly believes and presents one explanation for what happened, while the defense provides another credible, yet completely different set of facts and reasoning to explain the event. Of course nobody would say that either side has presented a conspiracy theory, but with a ruling at the end of the trial, somebody’s evidence will prevail. It is likely that the winner in the courtroom would be whoever does the best at providing the most facts which call the opponent into question, while also defending against claims made by the opposition. This is pretty much the process by which conspiracy theories work, as well.
Following this comparison, the best conspiracy theories, then, are also the ones who don’t just present an explanation on an interesting topic, but also one that has a solid army of facts and evidence to back it up. The problem, however, is in who gets to determine the validity of facts and evidence. Just like we saw earlier in the semester with the Mike Daisey and Apple stories, as well as a number of other cases we have studied, sorting through truth and lies is quite the task. In the case with the 9/11 conspiracies, the implications of taking the theories for truths would be so significant that we, as a society, are extremely hesitant and cautious in what we believe. Therefore, while conspiracy theories are a great form of entertainment much like exploring puzzles or mystery, they rarely ever lead to any calls for action. Unlike the courtroom, there is no jury deciding on the validity of opposing claims made by two sides. But while there is no jury deciding who wins in the case of conspiracy theories, sparking controversy and discussion among the millions of people who hear these theories is enough to keep the conspiracies coming.