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.