Much of the drama of "fake news" isn't that it's simply inaccurate, but that it's specifically designed to divide the masses and cast doubt on the real truth. In other words, decrying "fake news" is the equivalent of saying something is a conspiracy.
Politics has never been short of conspiracies, but rarely have they been so much in the forefront as they have in today's society. Unfortunately, the widespread exposure to convoluted truth-bending theories doesn't seem to be making us any less gullible to believing them.
To some, this article may even read like a conspiracy theory.
So why has it become so popular to call out conspiracy theories while incorporating elements of it at the same time? According to political scientist Joseph Uscinski at the University of Miami, it has something to do with the current president.
Uscinski told The Washington Post that the way Trump ran his campaign had a lot in common with conspiracy theory rationale. He was anti-establishment, said the media was making up lies, and he was an underdog who sought to infiltrate and change a larger, more powerful entity than himself.
At the time of the 2016 presidential campaign, University of Florida law professor and conspiracy theory expert Mark Fenster told the Washingtonian how Trump's rhetoric stood out from past politicians.
"What's different with Trump is that there’s no content to Trump," he said. "You knew what Goldwater stood for. Trump just pieces together pieces that are circulating and brings them together in a mishmash."
Now that Trump has won the campaign, Uscinski says, he needs to keep fueling the ideas that put him in office.
"Trump put together a coalition of conspiracy-minded people," he said. He also said "that’s why we have dueling conspiracy theories. That’s why we have a narrative on the right and a narrative on the left."
While competing theories under the same administration are less common, it's always been typical for the minority party to favor conspiracy theories. Speaking to Vice, Uscinski highlighted the flip-flopping that has occurred with different administrations -- for example, the theory that President George W. Bush was responsible for 9/11. More theories from the right sprung up after the Democrats gained power.
"After Barack Obama came to office, the [George W. Bush] theories became socially inert and people were talking about the birth certificate, that he blew up Deep Water Horizon, Benghazi, that he killed the kids in Sandy Hook," Uscinksi said.
Since Democrats are once again the minority, theories are popular with the left once again. The Washington Post reports that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee even funds a website with the word "conspiracy" in its name: The Rohrabacher Conspiracy takes aim at Republican California Representative Dana Rohrabacher's alleged criminal connections.
"Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has been in Congress since 1989, and in that time, has racked up some impressive accolades: Putin’s favorite congressman, Most Likely To Be Recruited as a Russian Spy, and Worst Roommate," the website says. It continues, saying that "in the nearly three decades that the Congressman has spent collecting a salary from Southern California taxpayers, he’s amassed an interesting collection of friends … it’s a Who’s Who of the Washington swamp -- come on in, the water’s absolutely disgusting!"
Rohrabacher is also said to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential campaign doesn't help to downplay the tendency of politicians to use grandiose language while speculating the potential wrongdoings of their opponents.
Meanwhile, "fake news," reports of illegal voting and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's supposed criminal deeds dominate many of the headlines on the right. Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert from Texas and Fox News host Sean Hannity used flowchart visuals to depict a Clinton-Russia connection. Both of their charts were organized in a way commonly associated with conspiracy theories, Uscinski says.
Uscinski concludes that due the complexity of the potentially true stories and the rhetoric already popularized by the Trump campaign, "the cost of being called a conspiracy theorist at this point is probably getting closer to zero," so politicians "might as well let it rip."
It looks like conspiracy theories, or at least their rhetoric, aren't going anywhere for a while. But according to a study published in the journal "Personality and Individual Differences" on Nov. 14, you may be less likely to fall for them if you have a particular thinking style.
Inverse reports that the survey, which was given to 300 Americans following the 2012 election, rated people's cognitive ability as well as their belief in various conspiracy theories. The survey takers were also asked to rate how much they valued rational thinking and having proof for their beliefs.
Those who were least likely to believe conspiracy theories had an analytic thinking style and highly valued basing their beliefs on facts. The researchers highlighted that their lack of belief in conspiracy theories had more to do with their rationality and less to do with their intelligence, implying that people who believe in conspiracies can still be very smart.
So pay attention to the facts and not your intuition -- and, as always, watch out for the Illuminati while you're at it.
Sources: The Washington Post, Washingtonian, Vice, Inverse, The Rohrabacher Conspiracy / Featured Image: Exile on Ontario St/Flickr / Embedded Images: 911conspiracy/Flickr, Victor Victoria/Wikimedia Commons