Can a conspiracy theory be true?

This article is part of Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories often have the same structure and characteristics. But is one of those characteristics that they are always wrong? In other words: can a conspiracy theory sometimes just be true?

Don’t dismiss out of hand

“We can’t dismiss all conspiracy theories out of hand. There have historically been conspiracy theories that turned out to be true.”
Piaa Varis
Prof. dr. Piia Varis
Tilburg University

Very occasionally a conspiracy theory turns out to be true. For example, you regularly hear speculations that governments engage in spy operations. Secret documents that surfaced in 2013 showed that the American intelligence service did indeed listen in on the phone conversations of world leaders including Angela Merkel. So you can’t state that every conspiracy theory is by definition a fabrication.

Conspiracy theories vs. fake news

The fact that conspiracy theories can sometimes be true sets them apart from fake news. While fake news is created purposely to deceive people, conspiracy theorists in contrast really believe that they are right. 

Conspiracy theories arise from a critical stance: conspiracy theorists don’t want to just accept the dominant opinion as true and therefore go looking for alternative explanations.

Better to doubt than believe

An important side note here is that most conspiracy theories are definitely wrong. If you encounter a strange story on the internet, you’re best off doubting it rather than simply taking it as true.

Also remember that looking for more information around a conspiracy theory doesn’t always help. There’s a good chance you’ll come across videos and articles that try to confirm the theory. That’s exacerbated by the algorithms behind search engines and social media: if you’ve watched or read something about a conspiracy theory, the algorithm will try to show you more of the same.


Conspiracy theories that have no truth to them are often rife with coincidences. If the theory is very complex and contains lots of details, it’s unlikely to be true. The same goes for a theory that many people know about: real conspiracies would be properly kept secret.

Published on 18 October 2023