The New Information Order

· How the Internet is freeing conspiracy theories from the control imposed by traditional media.
In the pre-Internet age, our society had an order of information in which knowledge was managed by experts and authorities, as well as representatives of the political, legal, scientific, medical and economic powers-that-be. Academics, scientists, spokespersons for the state and the owners, producers and editors of the major media decided what was real and what was unreal, what was true and what was false. The upside of this was that an awful lot of utter nonsense did not find mainstream distribution. The downside was that some material was misclassified as unreal or false – either by error, or because of interest group pressure, ideology or group-think.
The Internet threatens all this by speeding up circulation of unofficial data and simply bypassing the official information authorities. Crucially, it enables the creation and distribut­ion of pure speculation or outright lies without significant legal hazard.
In the pre-Internet ‘knowledge order’, the label ‘conspiracy theory’ was one of the key management tools of the powers-that-be, enabling the denigration of a political or historical proposition without it having to be falsified. In the post-1964 sections of Dr Christ­opher Andrew’s 1,000-page history of MI5, In Defence of the Realm (Allen Lane, 2009), Andrew, as the spokesman for MI5, repeatedly dismisses the claims of critics of the agency as “conspiracy theories”. Based on the notion of an authority being allowed to see the official records of a secret agency, to report back that all is well and that the agency’s critics are simply misinformed or conspiracy theorists, Andrew’s book looks like one of the last hurrahs of the old information order.

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