The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos has long been a lightning rod for conspiracy theories. Extremist figures like Infowars host Alex Jones have used the event to reliably stoke fear and paranoia that the “globalists” have manipulated.
In the past, however, these ridiculous conspiracy theories were mostly confined to the far corners of the internet – places like Infowars. However, this has changed in recent years. The radical ideas promoted by the likes of Jones have become mainstream, popularized by some of the most influential figures in the right-wing media.
Take Glenn Beck for example. The right-wing media personality, who wrote a conspiracy book called “The Great Reset” that plays on the WEF’s 2020 Covid theme, on Tuesday mocked the idea that conspiracy theories are swirling around the event, while also giving oxygen to some of those theories. he interviewed a guest who claimed that the assembled world leaders wanted you to “eat insects rather than meat.”
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Beck isn’t the only one using the incident to push this fringe rhetoric. New Twitter owner Elon Musk responded to a conspiracy thread about the meeting in Davos on Sunday, saying the “S in ESG,” which stands for the WEF’s “environmental, social and governance” criteria, stands for “satanic.” (Musk also claimed to have been invited to the gathering, but organizers said he was not on the guest list.)
Alex Friedfeld, deputy 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 more people than ever before.
“The reality is that these conspiracies have spread to the far reaches of the Internet,” Friedfeld said. “But when you have people like Tucker Carlson or Glenn Beck — they start normalizing these conspiracies, exposing millions more people to these ideas.”
In particular, Friedfeld pointed to “Great Reconstruction” conspiracy theories, noting that the term has at this point “largely diverged” from its 2020 Covid origins and has become a “broad brand for conspiracies” about how global elites plan to use it. the masses for their own benefit. Friedfeld, in particular, said the use of the phrase “The Great Reset” by key figures is cause for alarm because it can send people down a rabbit hole.
“You go looking for the version they’re talking about on Fox News and suddenly you’re exposed to all these other conspiracies that fall under the same umbrella,” Friedfeld said.
The Associated Press’ Sophia Tulp reported this week that usage of “The Big Reset” on Fox News has been steadily increasing. Tulp said the term was mentioned 60 times on the right-wing talk channel in 2022, compared to 30 mentions in 2021 and 20 mentions in 2020.
The danger of conspiracy theories did not escape the attention of those who participated in Davos. During a panel moderated by Brian Stelter on Tuesday, AG Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, described disinformation as one of the most pressing problems facing society.
“I think if you look at this issue of misinformation, I think it applies to every other big issue that we’re struggling with as a society, and especially the most current of them all,” Sulzberger said. “So disinformation, and the broader mix of disinformation, conspiracy, propaganda, clickbait…bad information that corrupts the information ecosystem, what it attacks is trust.”
“And when you see that trust diminish, you see society begin to fragment, and so you see people fragment along tribal lines, and you know that immediately undermines pluralism,” Sulzberger added. “And the undermining of pluralism is probably the most dangerous thing that can happen to democracy. So I really think that if you’re thinking this week about the health of democracies and democratic erosion, I think it’s really important to go back to where it all started.