Edited by Peter
I have always said that the internet is one of the greatest achievements of mankind. The ability to share information and ideas instantaneously has changed everything about us, from how we communicate and do business, to how we develop relationships and express ourselves. Because the internet is not controlled by any one person, company, or nation, it’s very hard to censor ideas and material. However, this freedom is a double edged sword. Anyone can upload anything to the internet without first having it checked for being factually accurate. This is why it’s so important to be mindful of the content you consume online and to seek out opposing viewpoints and check the sources. However, some people can unknowingly find themselves in an echo chamber, having their fringe beliefs amplified and reinforced by a lack of exposure to conflicting views and evidence. Facebook and YouTube are two websites where this can easily happen, as they monitor who or what you interact with and then recommend similar pieces of content to keep you engaged on their site. So, for example, if you were to click on an anti-GMO video on YouTube, it would most likely recommend a similar video in your feed. If you were to interact with the recommended video, YouTube would start to promote more and more anti-GMO videos until it would be the predominant type of content you would be exposed to. This is because these websites care more about keeping you engaged than they do the calibre of material you are exposed to.
I believe that these echo chambers combined with the ability of anyone to publish anything online have led to a renaissance in conspiracy theories, pseudo-medical procedures, and general bad science. An interesting conspiracy theory that has grown in popularity over the last decade is the belief that the long-lasting white clouds left in the sky by aircraft are actually chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed on the population for nefarious reasons. The people who believe in this conspiracy theory call these lines in the sky chemtrails and feel so strongly against them that they recently organised protests around the world. I was able to spend the day attending one of these protests thanks, in part, to the people who have been supporting me via patreon and, boy oh boy, it was an interesting experience.
The protest I attended was in London – starting off in Hyde Park before moving to the BBC and then finally to 10 Downing Street. I arrived at Hyde Park approximately 20 minutes before the protest was set to begin and I have to admit that I was a little nervous. This is because the vast majority of my previous interactions with these people online did not go so well. I found them to be beyond paranoid with one going as far as to accuse me of being some sort of government assassin going around “bumping off” people who believed in the conspiracy. So naturally I was worried that they would react badly to my presence or, even worse, that I would become part of their conspiracy. I sat down on a park bench watching the number of protesters grow until I picked up the courage to go over and talk to them. I walked over and began to ask people for interviews and soon discovered that my fears were unfounded. They were honestly some of the nicest people I have ever met in London and gave off the impression that they were there for purely altruistic reasons. Some were a little hesitant to talk to me believing that I was from a news agency, but as soon as I said I was a YouTuber and I do this sort of thing for fun, they opened up. Within an hour, the number of protesters reached about 100 – roughly the same amount of people who attended the March Against Monsanto protest the previous year. However, unlike the March Against Monsanto protests, there was not a single member of the press to be found.
Like with all protests, it was not long before someone turned up with a boom box and people started giving speeches. I don’t feel ashamed in saying that I was hanging on their every word as the more they talked, the more contradictory and bizarre the day became. For example, most of the people I interviewed told me that chemtrails are being used to combat climate without the consent of the public. Yet all of them clapped at a woman who read a poem stating that there is no such thing as climate change, there is only geoengineering.
Although I saw a lot of interesting (shall we say) theories, nothing could prepare me for what was to follow. I witnessed something so cringeworthy that I had to fight the urge to close my eyes and look away. You see, it’s a little-known fact that the chemtrail movement has a booming music scene and they are not confined to one genre. For some reason, one of the protesters took it upon themselves to print out multiple copies of the lyrics to a popular chemtrail song and distribute it around the crowd for them to sing together. Even to this day when I watch this clip my toes curl up.
Next, the protesters took to the streets and marched towards the BBC. I used this opportunity to get in the middle of the crowd and march alongside them to learn more and see how the general public was reacting to them. It was at this point I was informed of the reason that they were marching towards the BBC in the first place. It turns out that the BBC are part of the conspiracy and are doing their part in pacifying the population by normalising chemtrails by showing images of the white lines in the sky in their broadcast. One example that every protester I talked to mentioned was the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon and how they would pan down from the sky containing chemtrails down to the court. As I was marching, I was also taking the time to watch the comical reactions of the public as they were being told that governments across the planet have conspired to spray chemicals from commercial aircraft on the population below for……reasons. And I am not saying that to mock the protesters, I am saying that because the vast majority of them did not know what the purpose of this alleged spraying was. This really took me by surprise and still, to this day, I can’t get my head around it. I don’t understand how someone can make the leaps of faith needed to turn up to this protest whilst not knowing why this alleged spraying is happening.
After handing in a letter to the BBC, the protesters made their way to 10 Downing Street. On the way there, I overheard people talking about various other conspiracies they subscribe too. One conversation that really got my attention was being had between a Welsh man and a southern woman about the merits of Dr. Judy Wood’s “Dustification” hypothesis. I could not believe what I was hearing, as I have never heard a person in real life defend Wood’s bonkers beliefs that some sort of energy weapon literally turned the World Trade Centre into dust. In hindsight, I should have joined the conversation to find out more but I thought I would come across as rude – after all, I was eavesdropping on their private conversation. Shortly after this, we arrived at 10 Downing Street where a hand full of protesters handed in a notice informing the government that they intend to prosecute them for the crime of geoengineering.
At this point in the day, it started to rain and I was feeling exhausted after being on my feet all day whilst carrying some rather heavy equipment. I decided to get the tube back to Kings Cross station a little early to get something to eat and to watch the hordes of Japanese tourists take pictures of themselves at platform 9 and three-quarters. Overall, it was a fascinating day full of people who believe in one of the more bizarre conspiracy theories.
On the way back on the train I reflected on the day and thought how these echo chambers that allowed these bizarre conspiracy to grow online now followed them into the real world. There wasn’t a single member of the public I saw, that after been told why they where there, was interested in anything they had to say. As a result these people where isolated again, stuck talking to each other in an endless loop of reinforcement and amplification.