Is Avril Lavigne Dead? and Other Online Truther Rat Holes.
Today, Gawker covered Vice’s coverage of a rumor dissected on the Internet Explorer Podcast a few months ago - a conspiracy that the real Avril Lavigne passed away over a decade ago and was replaced by a fake. And while I normally wouldn’t lead with a web rumor about the woman who blatantly stole my teenage love of ties and writing three-chord songs on the guitar, I was struck by my reaction to this vast theory permeating isolated crags of the web. Namely, not being surprised at all. We live in an age where what used to be a questions asked and forgotten while high (“whoa, what if THAT Avril isn’t the REAL Avril?!?!?”) can now percolate and ferment into full blown truther communities of all kinds.
Last July and also on Gawker, J.K. Trotter asked the question I’d jokingly posed in in jest to a few friends and colleagues - Is Donald Trump Running a False Flag Campaign to Help Hillary Clinton? You know, one of those innocent queries posed when we all thought this Trump campaign thing was HILARIOUS, something, anything that could explain why Trump was running. When we were laughing him off and ignoring the burgeoning populist sentiment that bubbled beneath his campaigns.
Now, it’s an absolute leap from Avril to Trump, but the nature of the online discussion is the same. It’s human nature to want to truther the shit out of anything. 9/11? We were all fooled. Obama’s birth certificate? Elaborate half-century plot. Even for something as horrific as Sandy Hook, there’s an entire community of people who don’t believe it really happened, and harass survivors and parents of victims.
We can laugh at Avril Lavigne truthers, but conspiracy yarns like this, on every topic, are being constantly spun online. Individuals spend inordinate amounts of time debriefing, and diagramming, and disputing, creating elaborate narratives that replace the accepted ’truth.'
Truth is relative, especially for the populist Id. Because, for many, it’s easier to nestle into your own hunches and beliefs, living in an likeminded online echo chamber, rather than admit that the world is messy and random and cruel. Easier to believe that a horrific massacre of children was made up by the media for political reasons, rather than a a futile look into human darkness that didn’t change anything at all. That a President who doesn’t look like you or believe what you believe was actually born in a foreign country. That Trump’s a Dem plant rather than a savvy media star exploiting the fears and resentments of disenfranchised white America.
The internet that allows me to interact with all of you every morning is also an internet full of rumors and rat holes, venn diagrams and circular logic, dark nooks in which anyone can curl up with a good conspiracy theory and emerge a week later with five-o-clock shadow and “just a few questions.” And unfortunately, not everyone checks Snopes every morning.
Stay critical, friends.