I Want To Start a Controversy

Graphic copyrighted by Lorelle VanFossen - the truth is out there

Stirring the pot. Mixing it up. Making noise. Creating controversy. Attracting attention. Driving traffic stats up.

If you want to get a lot of attention, create a controversy. This has been true for thousand – maybe millions of years – of human history. It started the moment language developed into the art of storytelling. Along with stories came gossip, and rumors, and then conspiracies.

Having spent a long time living in the Middle East, I learned a lot about conspiracy theories, and the truths and lies that lie behind their creation. After all, a good conspiracy isn’t worth much unless it has a measure of truth, or at least believable fiction, within the lies and falsehoods. It helped that I’ve long been a fan of some of the best conspiracy theory fiction authors, especially authors who specialize in taking current events and exposing the dark bellies underneath the events. True or not, who cares! It makes for great reading late at night when the mind keeps asking “Why do these things happen?”, “Why me?”, or telling yourself, “They’re out to get me!”

This week, I’ll look at some of the famous conspiracy theories, on and off blogs, and how many bloggers are using conspiracy theories to attract attention and traffic, the economics of conspiracies, blog-specific conspiracies and hoaxes, and offer tips you need to know if you are going to start your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

A conspiracy theory can be anything, involving any one or any subject. There are conspiracies about war, drugs, politics, governments, health, medicine, science, history, religion, sex, economies and investments, space, animals, and even weather.

Conspiracies in History

Some of the best of Shakespeare’s work dealt with conspiracies. What was Romeo and Juliet all about if not for the underlying conspiracies. What about Hamlet? Othello? Oooh, those were conspiracy theories within conspiracy theories, who-done-its of the highest magnitude. Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, another historical classic, was a mine field of conspiracies in and out of court, still capturing our imagination after all this time.

As a storytelling (and in some cases “newsy”) communications tool, conspiracy theory is typically defined as the bringing together a wide variety of arguments, not necessarily related, and connecting them together as “evidence” to support a theory to justify, or excuse, an event, belief, or action.

In the CBC’s report on recent conspiracy theories, they cited a historical example of how a conspiracy theory was used by Philip IV of France in 1307 to bring about the downfall of the wealthy and popular warrior monk group, the Knights Templar. His accusation that the Knights were guilt of “heresy, ‘homosexual vices’ and idol worship” ensured they were blamed for the loss of Jerusalem in the sacking of the “holy land” in the Crusades, even though blame was spread all around. Hey, in war it’s always better to blame someone else other than the responsible ones, right? A good conspiracy scatters the truth with finger pointing in the wrong directions.

The article questions why conspiracy theories continue to be popular:

Some sociologists describe conspiracy theories as illegitimate and pathological, threats to political stability. Others dismiss them as entertaining narratives, as populist expressions of democratic culture.

Some have pieces of supporting evidence, some can be discredited with only a little digging, yet continue to endure.

While conspiracies are rarely true, they last because we love a good story. A well-told conspiracy makes for a great story. Add some mystery and mayhem and it’s even juicier. And gets better with the retelling.

JFK, Martin Luther King, Elvis, O.J., Princess Diana, 911, Katrina, Watergate, Irangate, Gitmogate, and something about a cigar and a president – we’ve all experienced great conspiracy dramas within our own recent history that fill the news for months and months as everyone tries to guess whose right, and whose wrong, and what’s the real truth behind the truth. These conspiracies are part of our culture.

In the newly released version of the movie Hairspray, dragged to the television to watch something “amazing”, the mother says to her daughter’s best friend, “I read all about it. It’s a big Hollywood set… you want me to actually believe he’s really up there…” referring to the popular conspiracy theory that in its rush to get into outer space and to the moon, NASA faked it. This conspiracy theory is a part of our recent collective memory, so it’s familiar, and funny.

Graphic copyrighted by Lorelle VanFossen - the truth is out thereTelevision shows like The X-Files entertain the world with conspiracy theories every week, even in rerun. What better story-telling device than an ongoing conspiracy which involves governments and aliens. A very popular conspiracy theory movie and book, The Da Vinci Code, continues to incite the imagination with “what if” mixed with “hey, it’s possible”.

Bloggers are not exempt from the need to take two or more disparate facts and bang the drums of conspiracy in order to attract attention to their blogs.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover some examples of some conspiracy theories and why we are so fascinated by them, then later, I’ll cover the economics of conspiracies, how blogs use conspiracies as part of their blogging purpose, and finish with tips on how to write your own conspiracy theory on your blog.

Article Series on Conspiracy Theories and Blogs

Have You Found Your Blog Topic for Blog Action Day – October 15

is October 15, and the founders of the event are asking bloggers around the world to blog on the topic of the environment.

Similar to the April 30, Day of Silence, when many bloggers around the world didn’t publish anything but a sign honoring the day in protest of personal violence, Blog Action Day asks you to turn your blog into action by blogging about the environment on that day. You can choose any topic, as long as it has to do with environmental issues.

The idea behind Blog Action Day is to use the power of united voices to call attention to an issue. This year, Blog Action Day is dedicated to the environment. Next year, they may have a different subject.

With millions of bloggers writing about the environment, readers can’t help but be exposed to the news and information just from the numbers. This type of unified action often speaks louder than the small chorus.
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UK politician wins party’s blog of the year award

While US political blogging is very much on the radar, less is spoken about British political blogging. However, a Liberal Democrat activist, James Graham, has won the UK political party’s annual blog of the year award, winning the opportunity to interview party leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

James works for a non-governmental organisation, Unlock Democracy, said he was delighted to scoop the top prize. Perhaps not hugely prestigious, but surely an appropriate prize for a party political blogger.

“Generally I try to be independent but not unnecessarily critical of the party,” he said. “The Liberal Democrat blogging community is very much a community. It’s much more a sense of people getting together through their dialogue and the debate can be quite exciting at times.”

A ceremony took place in Brighton, with Mr Graham picking up a glass globe.

Will Howells, Liberal Democrat internet campaigns officer, said Mr Graham’s blog was “a very good mix of a bit of humour, while writing seriously about detailed policy issues in a very readable way.

“He’s not afraid of being independent from the party and he will slag off policy if he doesn’t agree with it. It’s the best example of Lib Dem blogging.”

Mr Howells said that there were now over 130 Liberal Democrat blogs.

“It’s a really good way of getting the views of members, activists and MPs across to other people in the party,” he said. “You can tell if there is a controversial announcement in the party because you get an immediate reaction from the blogs. MPs are seen as normal human beings, rather than away in Westminster going on junkets. We know what they are up to.”

(Via BBC News)

Political Bloggers and Candidates Have a Legal Right to Lie

If you haven’t noticed the political season is on in the United States, you will soon. The Blogosphere will soon be overrun with political blogs and blogs promoting US presidential and other candidates.

For me, this is a time when freedom of speech and objectivity in journalism clashes with the blogging spirit. It’s a mess no matter how you look at it.

I recently stumbled across an article written on the popular Fact Check site called False Ads – There Oughta Be a Law which applies even today:

Here’s a fact that may surprise you: Candidates have a legal right to lie to voters just about as much as they want.

That comes as a shock to many. After all, consumers have been protected for decades from false ads for commercial products. Shouldn’t there be “truth-in-advertising” laws to protect voters, too?

Turns out, that’s a tougher question than you might imagine.

For one thing, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” and that applies to candidates for office especially. And secondly, in the few states that have enacted laws against false political ads, they haven’t been very effective.

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Hacker To John McCain: Thou Shalt Not Steal (MySpace)

It looks like a US presidential hopeful has learned an awful lesson regarding the consequences of using another’s work and bandwidth without proper credit.

An employee of McCain’s office was using a template developed by Mike Davidson for their political MySpace page. Apparently they not only left off crediting Mike for the design, but decided to use his bandwidth too (by linking to his images) so Mike decided to have a little fun with the Senator involving some “humorous issues.”
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Blogging Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Whatever You Want?

Bloggers Right image

Copycense was incensed by the idea of journal publishing being compared to slavery, a claim made by Richard Smith, a member of the board of directors at the US Public Library of Science in a public speech recently. Their response was to condemn the reference.

The increasingly dark, dire imagery used to characterize issues within the digital content debate too often goes far beyond framing, spin, or public relations. Language like this is grossly unprofessional and personally indecent. Nothing in this debate is nearly as urgent or serious as terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, or slavery, and the people who insist on perpetuating this language should be censured. Enough is enough.

I have to say that this condemnation speaks loudly for much of the writing and creative license with words I find on many blogs today. Freedom of speech isn’t permission to just say anything and everything you want to say. Sure, you can say whatever you want, but there are consequences you must live with if others don’t like what you say, or the law disagrees with your right to say it.

The United States is living in a time when freedom of speech is persecuted from every angle by the government. It’s okay to be for the President or for the troupes, but let’s pound you into the ground if you are against the war. If you are against the war, you must be against the President. You are definitely against the troupes. They seem to forget that you can be for many things and against many things, and the connections do not have to connect.

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What Do Drugs, Politics And Web 2.0 Have In Common?

Answer: They all promise to bring fulfillment to their users in life, but they can often leave a bad after taste in ones mouth.

With all of the political buzz online between the conservative, progressive, and “unaffiliated” voices in cyberspace, it looks like the road towards 2008 is going to reveal a lot of ugly warts from anybody considering entering the presidential race.

But it seems that some politicians are finding creative ways of reaching out towards their base via the world wide web, and here is a brief snapshot of those using the internet to their advantage.
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