Proponents of conspiracy theories – out of belief or necessity?

Many self-proclaimed experts, geo-strategists, theologians, and ufologists with questionable authority, often using pseudoscience, offer audiences alternative versions of reality.

Michael Butter, a professor of American Literature and Cultural History at the University of Tübingen, spoke in the middle of this year in an interview for Deutsche Welle in which way conspiracy theories point to real problems. He said that conspiracy theories have always existed but that they were largely discredited by the development of psychology and contemporary social sciences at the end of the 19th century, explaining how such social systems develop their internal logic.

Yet, despite this explanation, conspiracy theories are still very prevalent in societies. They are very important for the identity of those who believe in them because they explain how the world functions. According to Professor Butter, conspiracy theories have a strong conservative touch in terms of preserving the existing order or restoring it to an earlier order that no longer exists. Or it never existed, and experts, who appear in the context of historical revisionism, revive it with various studies, research, or forgotten documents.

In that sense, we can mention Goran Saric, a Croatian theologian and historian regionally known for lecturing on a slightly different Balkan history, which has been banned or hidden from the general public. In addition to frequent appearances in numerous TV shows (Novosadrska TV, TV Studio B, TV Happy, Center, Balkan INFO), Saric holds lectures and forums in the region. He has twice been a guest at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Belgrade on the topic of Serbs in the Secret Archives of the Vatican (2017 and 2018). He has also recently visited Montenegro, where he gave a lecture on Forbidden History of the Balkans at the KIC Budo Tomovic in Podgorica on October 7 and answered historical questions related to our country.

Political consequences

The author of the book Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture, Mark Fenster, points out that conspiracy theories play an important communicative role since they help unite the masses as the people against the others, presented as a secret power bloc. Additionally, author and professor at St. Peter’s University in New Jersey, Barna Donovan, said in a show One-on-One with Steve Adubato that part of the population did not believe the evidence provided.

Daniel Jolley and Karen M. Douglas, professors of Social Psychology at the University of Kent in England, studied how such theories can have not so harmless consequences for a society in the research The social consequences of conspiracism[1] (2013). In their research, they found out that people exposed to conspiracy theories about climate change or the electoral system, for example, were less willing to reduce their carbon footprint or vote in elections. The study revealed that conspiracy theories thus reduce social inclusion since they make people feel helpless.

A study conducted in May 2019 by a group of students from the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade on the inclination of adult Serbian citizens to believe in conspiracy theories and the role of the media in their creation showed that 0.6 (on a scale of 0 to 1) believe in conspiracy theories. The results also revealed that conspiracy theories are more widely believed by readers of tabloid newspapers than by readers of newspapers that are not classified as such. The same ratio of results is observed in TV programs.

Popularity in mainstream media

Proponents of conspiracy theories often appear in the mainstream Serbian media outlets, which are equally popular in Montenegro and other countries in the region. With such credibility, conspiracy theorists can more easily connect with like-minded people and create communities and discussion forums.

At the end of 2018, Dejan Lucic and Predrag Petkovic were guests at the morning show on TV Prva, where they were invited to speak about a new prediction of the end of the world. On that occasion, Lucic said that there will be an attempt of assassination of President Trump and Petkovic said that Earth was flat. Lucic is already known to the public as someone who has been talking about the conspiracies of world powers and intelligence services for years and is announcing World War III. His comments regarding Metropolitan Amfilohije are well-known, as well as the statement that if Montenegro seizes all ecclesiastical property from the Serbian Orthodox Church, the destruction of Orthodoxy in that country will begin.

Conspiracy theory of flat Earth on a map

The Balkan INFO production, especially its show Interview, is a place where conspiracy theorists often appear. Founded in June 2015 in Belgrade, this independent media production has almost 230,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel. According to information from that channel, the second most viewed video, with 1.3 million views, is the 2016 Interview with Miroljub Petrovic, entitled The European Union Promotes Satanism and the Destruction of Man.

Miroljub Petrovic has become regionally popular for his unconventional positions that children should not attend school, women should be silenced, and drug addicts punished with the death penalty – under the sword boy – that provoked laughter. However, Petrovic’s narrative and work only attracted more severe attention this year when an investigation of the death of 30-year-old Slavco Petrov, whom he allegedly treated for a brain tumor with his natural medicine methods, started.

In an interview with Darko Brkan, President of the Civic Association Zašto ne (Why Not) and owner of the portal, we got an idea of how conspiracy theories are being spread in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For 18 years, journalist Mladen Maric has been editing and running the foreign policy TV show Paralele on Federalna TV (a public broadcasting service in Bosnia and Herzegovina), and providing public with content that has disinformation character, and most of that content has characteristics of conspiracy theories.

In one of the analyzes, the portal dealt with only one episode of the TV show and noticed an interesting phenomenon. The day they posted the analysis, they noticed a negative ratio of followers on Facebook, as well as a number of negative comments. This showed them how popular conspiracy theories and similar media are in the Western Balkans, and how much people actually trust unverified data.

YouTube – a home to conspiracy theories

In February this year, Professor Ashley Landrum from the University of Texas explained for the Guardian about a study where scientists questioned a hypothesis whether a YouTube video was the main channel for spreading conspiracy theories that Earth was flat. The study was conducted on 30 respondents and 29 of them said they began to believe that Earth was flat only recently after watching videos of it on YouTube.

In the Western Balkans, YouTube has gained enviable popularity among younger generations, where gamers, YouTubers and vloggers are most followed. All of them, of course, make such videos mostly because of their earnings, sometimes reaching several thousand euros a month.

The second most viewed video channel IDIOKRATIJA with almost a million views.

The IDIOKRATIJA channel, which records about 280,000 subscribers on YouTube, regularly publishes content on legends, peculiar events, secret societies, aliens, pyramids, etc. Although the channel is not arranged by a classic conspiracy theorist, but a young man who wants to make money from the topic’s popularity rather than advocate its ideas, the question arises to what extent that content has an impact on the younger generations who follow him.

A recent DIRECT MEDIA United Solutions and IPSOS Strategic Marketing survey about the Like Generation, conducted on generations born between 2000 and 2013, found out that Baka Prase was one of the famous contemporaries that young people admire.

This is supported by another study conducted in the middle of the year by Harris Polls and Lego in the US, UK, and China, which showed that one-third of children surveyed between the ages of 8 and 12 want to become either a vlogger or a YouTuber when they grow up.

[1] Full heading of the analysis: The social consequences of conspiracism: Exposure to conspiracy theories decreases intentions to engage in politics and to reduce one’s carbon footprint (2013)