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Why Davos Conspiracy Theories Became Popular

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New York

The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos has been a lightning rod for conspiracy theories. Extremist figures such as Infowars presenter Alex Jones have reliably used the event to heighten fear and paranoia about sinister schemes that “globalists” are allegedly hatching.

In the past, however, these ludicrous conspiracy theories have largely been confined to the fringe corners of the internet – places like Infowars. But in recent years that has changed. The radical ideas promoted by people like Jones became popular, having been popularized by some of the most influential figures in the right-wing media.

Take Glenn Beck, for example. The right-wing media personality, who has written a conspiracy book called “The Great Reset” playing on the WEF’s 2020 Covid theme, mocked the idea on Tuesday that conspiracy theories are circulating around the event, while also which gives oxygen to some of these very theories when he interviewed a guest who claimed, without dispute, that the assembled world leaders “want you to eat bugs instead of meat”.

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It’s not just Beck who is using the event to promote this fringe rhetoric. New Twitter owner Elon Musk, who responded on Sunday to a conspiracy thread about the Davos meeting, said the “S in ESG”, which stands for “environmental, social and governance” criteria of the WEF, “stands for satanic”. . (Musk also claimed he was invited to the meeting, but organizers said he wasn’t on the guest list.)

Alex Friedfeld, associate director of the ADL Center on Extremism, told me Tuesday that the use of extreme rhetoric and the endorsement of conspiracy theories by leading voices on the right has resulted in outlandish claims reaching far more people than before.

“The fact is that these conspiracies have been circulating in more peripheral parts of the internet,” said Friedfeld. “But when you have people like Tucker Carlson or Glenn Beck – they start to normalize these conspiracies, they expose millions of people to these ideas.”

In particular, Friedfeld pointed to “The Great Reset” conspiracy theories, noting that the term has “broadly divorced” at this point from its Covid 2020 origins and has become “a broad brand of conspiracies” about how global elites are planning use the masses to your advantage. Friedfeld said that, in particular, the use of the term “The Great Reset” by mainstream figures is cause for alarm because it can send people down a rabbit hole.

“You look up whatever version they’re talking about on Fox News, and all of a sudden you’re exposed to all these other conspiracies that fall under the same umbrella,” explained Friedfeld.

Sophia Tulp of the Associated Press reported this week that usage of “The Great Reset” has been steadily increasing on Fox News. Tulp said the term was mentioned on the right-wing talk channel 60 times in 2022, up from 30 mentions in 2021 and 20 in 2020. Tulp added that it was mentioned the most on the Carlson and Laura Ingraham show.

The danger of conspiracy theories was not lost on Davos attendees. In a Tuesday panel moderated by Brian Stelter, AG Sulzberger, editor of The New York Times, described misinformation as one of the most pressing problems facing society.

“I think if you look at this issue of disinformation, I think it maps to pretty much every other big challenge that we’re dealing with as a society, and particularly the most existential among them,” Sulzberger said. “So disinformation and in the broader set of disinformation, conspiracy, propaganda, clickbait … the broader mix of bad information that is corrupting the information ecosystem, what is attacking is trust.”

“And once you see trust decline, what you see is a society starting to fragment, and then you see people fragmenting along tribal lines and, you know, that immediately undermines pluralism,” added Sulzberger. “And the weakening of pluralism is probably the most dangerous thing that can happen to a democracy. So I really think if you’re spending this week thinking about the health of democracies and democratic erosion, I think it’s really important to work back to where this starts.”