Are conspiracy theories dangerous?

This article is part of Conspiracy theories

Those who believe in a conspiracy theory often get completely carried away. How dangerous is that? Should you be careful with conspiracy theorists, or are conspiracy theories no more than harmless fabrications?

Largely innocent

In the first place, a conspiracy theory is a way to explain the world. The goal of (most) conspiracy theorists is not to pit people against each other or to sow hatred, but to expose the so-called truth. Therefore conspiracy theories aren’t by definition a threat to society.

Of course, there are exceptions. In 2016, an otherwise gentle father stormed into a pizzeria while armed because he was convinced powerful politicians were sexually abusing children (‘Pizzagate’). And yet most conspiracy theorists are normal people, who are simply looking for answers. 

Impact on society

Although most conspiracy theories don’t form a direct threat, they can have a negative impact on society. Take for example the theory that corona is a lie made up by the government to keep its citizens in check: ideas like that can slow down the vaccination campaign and stop the economy from reopening fully.

The same goes for wild stories about the climate crisis. The theory that climate change is a conspiracy by the Chinese can create confusion and cause people to not take the crisis seriously. It can influence their voter behaviour and keep politicians from taking action.

Dismiss or debunk?

The decision whether to enter into debate with conspiracy theorists or to simply ignore them is a difficult one. 

“It’s not always necessary to respond to conspiracy theorists. If you do want to react, thoroughly consider what it is you want to say.”
Piaa Varis
Prof. dr. Piia Varis
Tilburg University

It’s more important to be able to recognise conspiracy theories. That way you’ll know which stories to take with a grain of salt, and you’ll avoid blindly following anyone’s ideas.

Conspiracy theories: should you respond?

When is it better not to react to conspiracy theories, and when should you? And how? Discover our tips.

Published on 18 October 2023