The Gen Z-fueled “The Birds Aren’t Real” movement says birds are all actually government drones sent to surveil us from the skies, the streets and in our own backyards. Sound ridiculous? Well, it is. And that’s the point.
“What I find most interesting is it’s an attempt to change peoples’ beliefs about conspiracy theories by pointing out how ridiculous they are.” —Dr. Joseph Uscinski, University of Miami
The Birds Aren’t Real conspiracy theory is a parody. The leaders and adherents are all in on the joke. And it’s a parody with a purpose. It pokes fun at the growing acceptance of conspiracy thinking, while trying to erode growing trust in these falsehoods. While journalists and purveyors of truth bang their heads against the wall hoping that facts and data will effectively combat false conspiracies and disinformation — is humor and parody a better answer?
Listen: Two experts on the psychology of conspiracy theories react to “The Birds Aren’t Real.”
Dr. Joanne Miller is a professor of political science as well as psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware. She is an expert on conspiracy theories and why people believe them.
“This is a group of Gen Z-ers who are out there trying to find a specific community and, in a sense, vent their frustration with an online misinformation world by parodying it,” says Miller. “It’s a, in a sense, brilliant parody. The history is chock-full of all kinds of conspiracy theory tropes. So I find it interesting in the sense of the community it creates.”
Dr. Joseph Uscinski is a professor of political science at the University of Miami who studies public opinion and mass media, with a focus on conspiracy theories.
“What I find most interesting is it’s an attempt to change peoples’ beliefs about conspiracy theories by pointing out how ridiculous they are. The hope is that perhaps it will get people to question their own beliefs more than they seem to have in the past few years,” says Uscinski.
But he says he’s not sure it works.
“In some ways this does play into conspiracy theorists’ hands,” he says. “When you go down the rabbit hole, you do find conspiracy theorists saying, explicitly, often, that there’s people in the mainstream media creating conspiracy theories that are really dumb just to make us look stupid. And right here in the New York Times is an example of exactly that.”