What is a ‘conspiracy theory’?

In April 2020, amidst the coronavirus lockdown period, various UK police and schools were sending out notices which encouraged people to let them know if anyone was repeating ‘conspiracy theories’. This was done under the banner of the Prevent de-radicalisation programme run by the UK government to prevent terrorism. One example of this was posted by Greater Manchester Police, taken in the last two weeks from social media:

So what exactly is a conspiracy theory? According to this article in The Conversation the term has been around since the 1870’s with its use becoming more common in the 1950’s with the CIA referencing it in a 1967 document that was released under Freedom of Information with reference to JFK’s death. So contrary to popular belief the CIA did not coin the term conspiracy theory. In fact the CIA used it so causally, in the in the document obtained under Freedom of Information, the author of The Conversation article comes to the below conclusion:

The authors [CIA] of the document deploy the term in a very casual manner and obviously do not feel the need to define it. This indicates that it was not a new term but already widely used at the time to describe alternative accounts.

So therefore a conspiracy theorist simply “describes other accounts”.

Up to the 1980’s the use of the words ‘conspiracy theory’ was not derogatory, but now the term seems to be used as an insult aimed at people that do not support the main stream narrative – which now has recently moved up a step to apply to someone who apparently poses a threat to society.

So Freedom of Information requests have been sent to various UK government bodies to determine what exactly a conspiracy theory is, what the possible far ranging topics of this term are, the consequences of individuals talking about ‘conspiracy theories’ and the implications of that on our liberties and freedoms of speech.

Here is a notice sent from schools to parents:

When the responses to the Freedom of Information requests come back they will be posted here.

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