Conspiracies of Correlation
A propaganda theory of media confuses causation with correlation. Media operators and government leaders simply have the same national interest. For the media, it's all about the propagation of an American marketplace that consumes media and buys products that are advertised on said media. For the government, it's all about the propagation of American power.
Are the heads of American media sitting in the same room with the heads of American government, coordinating their press releases and campaigns? Or does the media simply have a symbiotic relationship with a powerful state? The distinction, which is perhaps subtle, means the difference between conspiracy and synchrony. To conspire is to assert agency among the conspirators. If the media is inadvertently pumping pro-statist propaganda because they're lazy or their incentives happen to line up with said propaganda, that's one thing. It's a whole other matter to assert that these institutions are collectively trying to harm us.
The problem with conspiracy theories is that once they are proven out, we no longer classify them as such, but instead treat them as accidents, evil deeds, terrorism, war, or any of the myriad bad things that fill history books. There is no hall of fame for vindicated conspiracy theorists. A conspiracy theory is simply a plot or mystery that mainstream or official inquiry isn't pursuing.
Once official inquiry begins, the theory simply becomes an investigation, and whoever leads that investigation puts their stamp of normalcy on it. All previous rumors, rumblings, and misgivings that preceded the investigation, or even agitated for the investigation, are forgotten, and the theorist is left to work on defending their craziness while working on the next conspiracy.
Conspiracy theorists probably have extra gray matter associated with memory, given how easy it is for data points to add up and overwhelm
When we exhume the bodies of conspiracy theorists and examine their brains, we might find them to have an unusual amount of gray matter associated with memory. Their theories are often presented as an overwhelming array of dots that may or may not be connected. The rate at which conspiracy theories get debunked by mainstream science is constant on a monthly basis, but the rate at which conspiracy theories are generated is unlimited.
Every mysterious detail gets logged in the conspiracy theorist's brain, and to them, the dots themselves are the point. There are just so many questions, which if they go on unanswered, can only mean one thing.
Rational Conspiracy Theorism
Conspiracy theorists are the subject of derision in the United States, but if you were in the USSR or if you are in China today, that impulse, to think that someone is watching you, would have been accurate. Conspiracy theorism is therefore sometimes an adaptive, and so it can't be easily wished away. Beliefs such as that 9/11 was an "inside job" would have had parallel beliefs in other moments in history that would have been perfectly rational. At times, these plots reached levels of absurdity, such as the pope running his own armies and orgies, that conspiracy theorists were the sane ones.
Likewise, not being sensitive to conspiracy can be maladaptive in other contexts, especially if we expand to non-political ones. For example, at any given moment, there could be a plot to take over your company or job, or maybe your neighborhood association is now beholden to special interests, i.e. real estate developers.
Soul-Shattering Epiphanies and Conspiracism
While studies don't make it clear whether the Internet is responsible for the recent uptick in conspiracism—or whether there is even an uptick at all—the recent measles outbreak tells a different story. What's happening is a direct result of a general increase in anti-vaccination interest, which is hard to imagine occurring before the Internet.
The prevailing theory for why the Internet is promoting vaccination conspiracies—and possibly other conspiracies—is that of "filter bubbles." Online social networks e-enforce own biases by steering us to mingle with like-minded people, all so that those social networks can sell more ads. However, the opposite could also be true. The world was more isolated before the Internet. Now we can become exposed to a more diverse set of opinions, such as anti-vaccination, than ever before.
For example, Patricia Steere, one of the stars of the Flat Earth documentary Behind the Curve, became a vegan after listening to the album Meat is Murder by the Smiths. If you woke up one day and realized that you were a mass murderer, you might question other global truths. You would begin searching for things to upend until it became an obsession. Everybody is exposed to more information now. People have more chances to encounter world-changers like Meat is Murder, which is one click away on Spotify. From there, they can keep going down the rabbit hole until the whole world is upside-down.