Grave peril of digital conspiracy theories: ‘What happens when no one believes anything anymore?’

FILE – Violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, vandalized the offices of Congress and fought with police in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) WASHINGTON (AP) — Days after Maui’s wildfires killed scores of people and destroyed thousands of homes last August, a shocking claim spread with alarming speed on YouTube and TikTok: The blaze on the Hawaiian island was set deliberately, using futuristic energy weapons developed by the U.S. military. Claims of “evidence” soon emerged: video footage on TikTok showing a beam of blinding white light, too straight to be lightning, zapping a residential neighborhood and sending flames and smoke into the sky. The video was shared many millions of times, amplified by neo-Nazis, anti-government radicals and supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, […]

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By Donato