The scene comes focus: a car goes down a steep mountain road at night. Suddenly, the headlights flash and then turn black. The car is left dead. The light of the moon is all that is left for our heroine, the owls, and the faintly disturbing music is played in the background.
You know things are going south, because, as TVTropes.com warns, “only three things happen when you travel on the road in a horror movie,” and they all bring horror. As our hero gets out of the car, you will be tempted to shoutDon’t go to the woods! ”Because entering the forest at night does not bring anything good. But yes, of course. There, he finds an Abandoned Trunk Cabin. You can write the rest of the story yourself.
Over time, these tropes can be highly predictable. Their prediction is used for many purposes. Just as film, song, and television storytellers use trophies to make stories more understandable and telling, and ultimately to entertain us, misinformation providers use the same trope to make their arguments more understandable or accountable, and ultimately to manipulate us. Knowing that, we can keep more of us out of the woods.
You’ve probably seen a lot of tropes in online memes and stories about Covid-19. The anti-vaccine movement has for centuries focused on the same plot devices to make unfounded claims popular and attractive.
In 2012, economist Anna Kata McMaster University wrote an article follow-up how the same tropes are repeated, regardless of what the vaccine is, online in the anti-vaccine dialog box. For example, consider the widespread claim that “vaccines are not natural”. Then a proclamation: “They will turn you into a chimera.” In the 1800s, those inoculated with smallpox-derived vaccines were heard to become hybrid human cows. (They didn’t.) Today, social media agents are spreading stories about mRNA vaccines by “changing our DNA !!!” (They are not.) The details have changed to accommodate the current pandemic, but the troops below are the same as they were in 2021 to 1801.
This “out-of-this-world” crowd is a key construct within a broad and misleading narrative that “vaccines are dangerous”. Being a scholar of the American University and Harvard School of Public Health, along with an author here, they have recently documented, Anti-Vaccine Disinformation Stories The stories about Covid-19 are made up of well-known tropes recycled from past vaccines. Some are conspirators. In the early months of the pandemic, for example, “Bioarma” troops they were angry. Vaccine propagandists have often made these claims out of fear of creating new diseases (Ebola, SARS, etc.). The “disease as a weapon” troupe has a purchase because it takes on a stranger — the origin of the disease — and provides a neat explanation with the seed of truth: Bioarm programs exist … and we’ve all seen that film, too.
These building blocks — tropes — are capable of transferring conspiracy theory narratives between subjects. Prior to the pandemic, for example, anti-vaccine movements included major narratives about vaccines that cause all sorts of harm and cover the government’s damage to the QAnon movement. Zion’s Elders, chemtrails conspiracies, and theories of the New World Order, among others. These tropes are easily transferred because they exist the usual architecture of conspiracy theories. One of the reasons why people who believe a conspiracy theory is often believed by others may be that multiple theories share the same crowd: The man behind the curtain makes it easier to buy because Man covers the chemtrails program. That’s why when it’s Jigsaw, that’s Google’s unit explores threats to open societies, they interviewed 70 conspiracy believers, each adhering to multiple conspiracy theories.
If you see one trope once, you will notice it the next. This knowledge can help us in the short circuit of critical thinking that we will normally use to evaluate new information. In composing this problem, tropes are well suited to oversimplify complex issues, such as the origin of the vaccine or the reasons for the protest. Mike Caulfield as an expert in media literacy notes, the troops level the scene to its essential parts, forcing the details to jump to a conclusion (the heroine will get out of her car!), without all the events.
But the fact that these manipulative tropes are so widespread and repetitive can also undo them. If we anticipate what tropes will be used to build conspiracy stories in the future, we are likely to anticipate them. Instead of correcting and verifying specific claims reactively, and if we were to discuss their basics in advance?