Like any historical tragedy, there’s always someone out there who insists it’s a hoax. From the Holocaust, to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, to 9/11, there’s no shortage of a**holes who insist the events never happened or were actually a ploy to promote a certain political agenda. Not only is is preposterous, but it’s also highly insulting. Alas, we’re here again, but this time with the Orlando shooting.
The tragedy, which occurred on June 12 and claimed 49 lives, has been often called a “false flag” when mentioned on social media. According to the New York Times, the code word is used by conspiracy theorists “to signal their belief that the government had staged the massacre and the information the public was reading and hearing from the mainstream media was untrue.”
The term false flag relates to naval warfare when a ship would fly a flag that would conceal its true identity as a way to lure an enemy closer. Today, it is commonly a shorthand for an act of deception.
Conspiracy theorists have applied the label to high-profile attacks, including the shootings by a husband and wife last year in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14; the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 that left 26 dead; and the attack at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., in 2007 that killed 33.
The phrase has even been used to doubt the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In this particular case, several people have stated that the victims of the shooting were actually crisis actors hired to help impose stricter gun laws.
Then there’s the “video proof,” which has been viewed nearly 730,000 times on YouTube.
So what’s the deal? Why are people saying such tragedies never occurred when the pain from families and the general population is plastered all over the media? When friends of victims post lengthy eulogies on social media? How can they deny straight-up facts?
“Everybody loves a story with a good plot twist, which is basically what conspiracy theories are,” wrote Rob Brotherton, a psychologist and science journalist in an email to the Times. “Conspiracy theories arguably just have slightly different logic and standards of evidence.”
Derek Arnold, a communications professor at Villanova University, elaborates: “For someone who believes in a conspiracy, you can’t go wrong. If the powers that be give you information that is against your theory, it’s a lie; if it supports your theory, you are even more vindicated. And if they stay silent, it’s because you’ve got something to hide.”
Whatever happened to the age old lesson, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all?”