Curiosity is an important part of human nature. The ability to reconsider and second-guess facts is something that has long been heralded as an important characteristic of intelligence.
There is a major difference, however, between questioning the accuracy of an account of a situation and casually spreading falsities intended to undermine the truth.
This has happened countless times: some people maintain that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex-ring in the basement of a D.C. pizzeria that doesn’t even have a basement (see Pizzagate), some believe the government controls the weather and others genuinely are convinced that the Earth is flat (newsflash – it’s not).
It’s easy to dismiss these as crackpot theories with no basis in reality. But what about conspiracy theories that aim to undermine the significance of tragedies? To this day, people continue to deny the Holocaust. Many believe that 9/11 was perpetrated by our government. Perhaps most abhorrently, several videos still circulate the internet claiming that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was an operation faked by the government to spark a debate about gun control.
Most recently, however, faux-Internet sleuths have taken to social media platforms to challenge details surrounding the shooting in Las Vegas that left at least 59 people dead and hundreds injured.
While there are still some things that are unknown about the above tragedies, an official record of the majority of what occurred is public knowledge thanks to eyewitness accounts, forensics and other empirical evidence. It is known to the families of victims thanks to the empty seat at their dinner tables.
Nonetheless, people continue to shamelessly insist on spreading these so-called “conspiracy theories.” Many videos are already circulating social media platforms that aim to challenge the official account of what is known about the Vegas shootings. One such video claimed to show the shooter was firing from the sixth floor rather than the police-reported 32nd, ignoring the fact that no windows were broken on the sixth floor.
Others have claimed that ISIS killed the alleged shooter, Steven Paddock, conducted the attack and framed him. This would be hard to prove given that the shooting continued up until the moments just before the SWAT teams entered the room, and Paddock apparently killed himself.
In addition, one would think that federal investigators with years of experience would have the sense to check the security feed of the hotel when determining how many shooters there were.
Former senator Joe Walsh tweeted “Something just doesn’t add up,” in response to the shooting.
Never mind the fact that Walsh has no experience as a police investigator, casting doubt on the veracity of police’s account of the tragedy serves only to undermine the investigation.
Police investigations and their success are often contingent upon public trust and cooperation. Once the public stops trusting investigators, the investigation is effectively defeated, as nobody will believe whatever is concluded if there is a perceived conflict of interest or ulterior motive.
This is where the conspiracy theories that blame the government fall apart (or should). What motive would there be for such an operation, and why would the plan be sloppy enough for Internet sleuths to catch on? If a point raised in a social media post seems unbelievable, in situations like these, there’s a solid chance that they are false, or that they are without proper context.
It is understandable that people want explanations about why this happened, but when there simply isn’t enough evidence to determine why yet, developing your own theory is not only reckless and inappropriate, it’s inhumane.
Put yourself in the shoes of those who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Imagine how distraught they are from their loss alone. Now imagine what they are thinking when they go online and see that people are a) denying that this happened, b) suggesting that it was actually a part of something bigger and c) undermining the authority of the investigators in charge of providing the families with an explanation of what happened.
Put aside the human desire to make connections that simply aren’t there. This tragedy is raw and terrible, and the desire to find some way to explain it is understandable. Assuming this isn’t a random act of senseless violence, the police will be the ones to uncover it, because they are trained to handle these situations, and unlike people on the internet, they have access to actual evidence. Trust that those whose job it is to solve this want to know the answers just as much as everybody else.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is at play here: those with little knowledge of a situation tend to be the most confident (and consequently the loudest). We’ll know more about what happened in Las Vegas as time goes on and the police are given time to investigate. In the meantime, have some respect for the families of the deceased and spare the world your conspiracy theories.