In times of crisis with the rise of uncertainty and unpredictability of events, fear grows as well. The process of ordinary reality is interrupted, our routines are disrupted, our plans and expectations are threatened, we feel easily hurt and frightened. The media can greatly facilitate the spread of fear, especially through the Internet, which today is the most powerful platform for circulation of information.

The spread of fear is manifested through two main psychological phenomena, projection and paranoia. Projection is a complex psychological phenomenon that is in its essence a defense mechanism. Through it, consciousness defends itself from various impulses and fears by denying them and passing them on to someone or something else. One of the most common examples of psychological projection is false accusation, in which we transfer or assign to others something that disturbs our conscience. Public figures and politicians often try to calm their conscience and personal moral temptations by fiercely attacking their opponents for certain immorality or alleged crime.


If we fail to deal with fear through projection and similar defense mechanisms, fear takes off and spreads more and more. Loss of control over fear causes various forms of moral panic, mass fear, or paranoia. Paranoia is a phenomenon when out of fear we begin to behave irrationally and begin to feel certain delusions as real. The enhanced role of the media and the internet in our daily lives is accelerating the processes of psychological projection and the spread of paranoia. Through everyday communication we witness how others accept such ideas (everyone does so!), and our resistance to them weakens, which gradually “normalizes” the irrationality.


It is in these stages and these types of psychological emergencies that conspiracy theories thrive and spread. The irrational penetrates reality and occupies our communication and collective consciousness. Fear is channeled through them and circulates rapidly through society. Just as we scream when we are under a strong fear, conspiracy theories are a sort of a collective scream caused by a fear we cannot deal with. Sharing the fear with others in such symbolically coded forms relieves us and binds us more tightly to the social groups to which we belong and where we seek salvation for our helpless Self.


It is a constant throughout human history that crises encourage conspiracy theories. One of the poorly documented, but still sufficiently registered conspiracy theory during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 is that radio waves and radio antennas were transmitting the virus. History today repeats itself with the notorious 5G conspiracy theories and shows that we often try to solve our fears through same mechanisms and through similar forms, so the biological virus is again accompanied by a similar communication virus.


The theory that radio waves transmit the flu was not the only conspiracy theory connected with the Spanish flu. Before it became known as “Spanish”, each of the larger countries where the virus appeared had a term that blamed another country for its occurrence. In Russia, the flu was called a “Chinese disease”, in Germany a “Russian disease”, in Japan an “American disease”, and the Italians referred to it as a “German disease”. Moreover, the term and the connection of the flu to Germany in the context of its defeat in World War I expanded the conspiracy that they spread the flu through pills manufactured by the German company Bayer, so people massively avoided their drugs.


Certainly, historically, one of the most dangerous conspiracy theories has been the one caused by the publication of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. This “popular” conspiracy theory later became one of the main reasons for the Holocaust and the outbreak of World War II. The author of the main text of this theory is Sergei Nilus, who for the first time published the entire edition of this text in 1903. “Protocols” is a fabricated text that was presented and disseminated as factual  writing and for its time, in such a printed form, it was a type of viral fake news, which was translated into several languages ​​and quickly spread around the world. The text includes borrowed parts, i.e. plagiarism, from older texts, a significant part of which were not anti-Semitic. The main topic of the text, originally published in the form of articles in the newspaper Znamya, were written in the form of meeting minutes, and contain a revelation of an alleged conspiracy of world domination in which Jewish leaders debate how to undermine the moral system of other countries through control of the economy and the press.


In a style that is a bit similar to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, using many French words, the author tries to cover up the sources, but also where and when the text was written. According to the researchers, the original form of the text was satirical, used mainly for the entertainment of members of anti-Semitic groups at the time, but later the text was revised and refined to take a form of a “factual text”. The main ideas and points in the text are shrouded in generalizations, truisms and phrases (there are no names, dates, locations in the text) and they do not provide specific information, something that is typical of today’s language of conspiracy theories. The “Protocols” consists reworks and plagiarized parts of various texts, such as “Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu“, mostly on the subject of Machiavellian principles for controlling the economy, debt, and the press. It includes a number of popular ideas of conspiracy theories known from the period of Machiavellianism and Jesuits, such as the corruption of faith through materialism, intimidation with the prophecy of the Jewish Messiah, control of the population by economic slavery and debt, and a number of other ideas present to this day in various forms.


The “Protocols” are certainly a product of their time, and the historical context is the rise of anti-Semitic sentiments in Russia during the second half of the 19th century. After the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Union at the end of the 18th century, Tsarist Russia took over territories with a large Jewish population. They were gradually delegated certain political rights for self-organization in certain geographical areas of present-day Poland, to which there was great resistance from certain parts of the Russian society. Following the banning of certain forms of self-organization, rumors spread that they continued to operate in secret and were trying to undermine the empire. Political turmoil has fueled rumors and speculation about a Jewish conspiracy against the empire and the creation of a secret government and an alleged “state within a state.” These theories also played an important role in the political life of the empire, especially after the assassination of Russian Tsar Alexander II. Political turmoil and conflicts have resulted in more frequent pogroms of the Jewish population in Russia and Eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th century, and it is important to mention that they were dating back to 1821.


Without going into all the historical details on this subject, it is clear that the “Protocols” were a printed version of a conspiracy theory that not only emerged from a particular socio-political context and historical period, but was also designed to influence political processes and social reality in the interest of certain groups in a struggle for power. It is not just a “theory”, but a textual template for political processes, conflicts, wars to serve as a “justification” for horrific crimes and destruction. The word “pogrom” also means “destruction” in its etymology, both material and in human lives, and has led to massive human tragedies.



The threats and the negative impact of conspiracy theories in the modern digital and networked world have been largely underestimated and were considered mainly as trivial recurrences and remakes of myths and legends. Their underestimation went so far that popular social networks such as YouTube and Facebook, through their algorithms, encouraged their spread only because they brought a huge number of visits and clicks to their platforms.


It wasn’t until 2019 that YouTube and Facebook, under the pressure from professional journalists’ associations, began removing a large number of content that spread conspiracy theories and they changed algorithms that until then had massively been recommending content with conspiracy theories to their users. Part of this venture was deleting the InfoWars channels of the American radio host Alex Jones, one of the main propagandists of conspiracy theories.


Conspiracy theories have their various forms and similarities with many phenomena in our popular culture, such as some micro-myths that we all debate and argue about. For example, do video games contribute to violence or whether there are satanic subliminal messages in heavy metal music. These are just some of the phenomena that are related to ideas and fears of secret or subliminal mass manipulation today.


These fears and modern myths must be taken seriously and resolved rationally, i.e. the space for their exploitation to manipulate the masses must be narrowed as much as possible by encouraging rational thinking and behavior. The best instruments we have for rational resolution, are similar to those from Arthur Conan Doyle time when he wrote Sherlock Holmes adventures against superstitions and the fears of the common man: these are science and researching based on verified facts. This is the side that we must always keep in mind and consider when we have to check our beliefs, fears and other modern inconveniences and dilemmas.



Sead Dzigal

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