Conspiracy theories are a disturbing new reaction to tragedy in America. They are vivid and captivating, wowing with their absurdity, and, as a result of social media shares, enabled to eventually worm their way into impressionable minds. After the Las Vegas shooting, stories were spun to tie the shooter to ISIS and the Mexican border. Following Hurricane Harvey, stories emerged that the hurricane was created by the government using nuclear fusion. Weeks after Donald Trump's presidential win, it was Pizzagate: a bizarre connection drawn between Hillary Clinton's emails and a fabricated pedophile ring being run out of a DC pizza place.
This is a new American spin cycle: disaster, fiction, repeat. It was something that happened for decades — from 9/11 being an "inside job" to President John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald — but at this point it appears to be growing exponentially, encircling the Republican party on all sides. And sadly, even the aftermath of the Parkland, FL, shooting has not been immune to this ultrabad form of conspiracy. As a result, the top trending posts and stories on social media are about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students being "crisis actors," people who have been planted at tragic sites to spin the story to be everything from antigun to pro-Democrat. The most vivid — and, quite frankly, absurd — "crisis actor" calls have sought to discredit vocal survivors like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez and have astonishingly gained hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook and the top trending videos on YouTube.
This is what you get when anyone can publish whatever they want.— Micah Grimes (@MicahGrimes) February 20, 2018
This is the business model.
These theories have gained so much momentum that Donald Trump Jr. — the president's eldest son — "liked" two tweets regarding Parkland fabrications. Sanitized versions of the theories have also ended up in Fox News segments. Hogg and his father appeared on AC360 to speak with Anderson Cooper about these lies. "I'm not a crisis actor," Hogg said. "I'm not acting on anybody's behalf." Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted about those propelling theories, calling them "a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency."
Theories that witnesses like Hogg and Gonzalez are "actors" are not new; unfortunately, it's now a part of the response to most mass shootings despite being repeatedly disproven by various outlets. After the Manchester bombing, after the Pulse nightclub shooting, after the Paris attacks, after the Sandy Hook shooting: after each one of these tragedies, stories of "crisis actors" surfaced, forcing theorized connections between events that had no correlation or causal relationship.
Ultimately, the conspiracy theories that have arisen after the Parkland shooting — these "crisis actors" accusations — are unequivocally false. But with conspiracy theorists harassing victims and compounding the already unthinkable trauma these individuals have been through, it's clearly time for America to think more critically about what is seen and shared online, since there are no easy solutions for this issue besides deleting the original post. Thankfully, that's what YouTube has done: the website has deleted Parkland theory videos regarding Hogg, and we can only hope that others follow suit.