Birds Aren't Real, And Kids Are Not So Susceptible To Conspiracy Theories (Their Parents On The Other Hand…)

from the birds-aren't-real dept

Back in high school, I read Robert Anton Wilson/Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! Trilogy back-to-back with Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and ended up being amused and fascinated at the intersection of conspiracy theories and pranksters. If you’re unaware, both books satirize the nature of conspiracy theories. Soon after I picked up a copy of Re/Search’s Pranks! book, which, to this day, is on my book shelf between a copy of the Mondo 2000 book and The Book of the SubGenius (with a copy of the tiny Loompanics yellow version of Principia Discordia sitting next to them). Soon after reading those, I got to college, and thanks to the wonders of the internet (and Usenet in particular) discovered a group of somewhat merry internet pranksters who dubbed themselves “The Flat Earth Society” — as a purely ironic group who enjoyed the mixture of absurdity, satire, pranking, with an appreciation for the occasional conspiracy theory worth mocking (I’m still in touch with some people from that group decades later, again, thanks to the internet).

That’s all preamble to note that I not only recognize, but really appreciate what’s going on with a group of Gen Z pranksters, who cooked up a rather brilliant satirical conspiracy theory, better known as “Birds Aren’t Real,” which has been making the rounds for a while now, and only was officially “exposed” as a prank in a thoroughly delightful NY Times article last week.

The events were all connected by a Gen Z-fueled conspiracy theory, which posits that birds don?t exist and are really drone replicas installed by the U.S. government to spy on Americans. Hundreds of thousands of young people have joined the movement, wearing Birds Aren?t Real T-shirts, swarming rallies and spreading the slogan.

It might smack of QAnon, the conspiracy theory that the world is controlled by an elite cabal of child-trafficking Democrats. Except that the creator of Birds Aren?t Real and the movement?s followers are in on a joke: They know that birds are, in fact, real and that their theory is made up.

What Birds Aren?t Real truly is, they say, is a parody social movement with a purpose. In a post-truth world dominated by online conspiracy theories, young people have coalesced around the effort to thumb their nose at, fight and poke fun at misinformation. It?s Gen Z?s attempt to upend the rabbit hole with absurdism.

It seems that every generation needs this kind of thing — and it’s often driven by young folks (correctly) mocking older folks for various moral panics about different conspiracy theories. We see it again, and again. The Stuff You Should Know podcast just recently had an episode all about SINA, the “Society for Indecency to Naked Animals” which was a very similar style prank in the late 1950s, early 1960s.

In each case, these tend to be efforts by younger folks mocking this or that moral panic by older folks — who always cloak the moral panic in a desire to “protect the children,” even as the moral panics themselves seem frequently to come out of conspiracy theories or nonsense that the older folks fall for, and many of the younger folks see through. It’s hard not to identify with this kind of thinking:

Most Birds Aren?t Real members, many of whom are part of an on-the-ground activism network called the Bird Brigade, grew up in a world overrun with misinformation. Some have relatives who have fallen victim to conspiracy theories. So for members of Gen Z, the movement has become a way to collectively grapple with those experiences. By cosplaying conspiracy theorists, they have found community and kinship, Mr. McIndoe said.

?Birds Aren?t Real is not a shallow satire of conspiracies from the outside. It is from the deep inside,? he said. ?A lot of people in our generation feel the lunacy in all this, and Birds Aren?t Real has been a way for people to process that.?

Or as someone notes later in the article:

Mr. Gaydos added, ?If anyone believes birds aren?t real, we?re the last of their concerns, because then there?s probably no conspiracy they don?t believe.?

To me, though the clear take away from this is that, yet again, the kids are alright, and will continue to be alright. And for all of the “but think of the children” moral panics we will experience over and over again, the kids will figure out ways to process and deal with those moral panics in the best way possible for them, figuring out the best ways to deal with the impossibilities of the world, and making the best of what may seem like a bad situation.

Count me as all in as saying “birds aren’t real.”

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Comments on “Birds Aren't Real, And Kids Are Not So Susceptible To Conspiracy Theories (Their Parents On The Other Hand…)”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I am very excited for your reaction to kids thinking NFT and cryptocurrency are stupid bullshit. Because large swaths of Gen Z on social media and elsewhere, especially in art communities, are calling it out for the stupid bullshit that it is.

Are you gonna change your tone if they en-masse reject the idea that “Protocols, Not Platforms” and the web3 coin and token scammery is the future?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Are you gonna change your tone if they en-masse reject the idea that “Protocols, Not Platforms” and the web3 coin and token scammery is the future?

You can have protocols without web3 or cryptocurrency. HTTP is a protocol. As is TCP/IP. As is RSS.

Next time, argue for a more cogent argument.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You and everyone else on this site knows what’s meant by “Protocols, Not Platforms.”

You can have protocols without web3 or cryptocurrency.

You can, but that ship has sailed. Cryptoshit has become inseparable from the decentralization and protocol strategies that are being pushed forward by the most well-positioned companies, individuals, and orgs.

I’d like to know if Mike would actually respect their choices, or if he thinks the children are wrong to oppose “decentralized” Ponzi schemes couched in liberatory individualistic disguises.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You and everyone else on this site knows what’s meant by “Protocols, Not Platforms.”

I read the paper. That’s clearly not what he means. While Mike isn’t opposed to web3 as much as you and I are, you’re being more than extremely disingenuous if cryptocurrency is the end-all-be-all of the next generation of protocols.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

you’re being more than extremely disingenuous if cryptocurrency is the end-all-be-all of the next generation of protocols.

The people with most financial and social capital to push forward with the idea of protocols in the public sphere are the ones who want cryptoshit to become the end-all-be-all of protocols. Their “vision” is constantly winning out because they have the most resources to hype it up.

Jack Dorsey was enamored with Mike’s paper and now he’s working on turning Kickstarter into some decentralized blockchain protocol or some other shit. Twitter BlueSky is being helmed by Shitcoin shill Jay Graber. Reddit and other sites and people with more money than human decency want to shove NFT and metaverse horseshit down our throats as the future of art and creativity and social media even though NFTs are a scam.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Sadly it has nothing to do with common sense and everything to do with total control.

And this is coming from someone who can’t find a good use case for NFTs, cryptocurrency and the related tech without stumbling onto either a use case that’s already been done through current tech.

Or that fact that crypto’s biggest problem is how it is still reliant on both the SWIFT Network and Internet infrastructure to work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Cryptocurrency isn’t a protocol or a platform.

Scams have been a thing since way before buttcoin. Rememeber Amway? Yeah, one of the Amway Scammers became a Minister for Education…

And you’re missing the point as to why crypto is popular, and it’s entirly because people are sick amd tired of centralized currency bullshit like SWIFT being used to hurt countries.

Coffee U (profile) says:

Re: Are, or were

Are, or were? Birds were the lest vestiges from the age of dinosaurs. Until the US government wiped then out in the mid 1960’s to install the drone army. Now, birds are a constant reminder of the ever seeing eye of the state.

But because birds used to be… well, birds; it makes it so hard for many to see the current truth. There’s recorded history of birds just about as far back as humankind has recorded history; they couldn’t have been drones then. So you just keep assuming that flying drone is an actual bird, even when it’s behaviour is non-sensical as it hit an obvious programming bug.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bloof (profile) says:

Fifteen years ago, parents were telling their kids to be careful what they post and who they meet with online, fastforward to the present day and those parents now believe in bleach enemas, that children are being sold online in flatpacked furniture and are camping out in Texas waiting for the return of a 90+ year old JFK and his son…

Anonymous Coward says:

Someone needs to start a group nfts are not real ,they are just a link to a data point saying user x paid for the right to own an image.
which can be copied or downloaded by anyone ,
paying 1000s od dollars for a nft is pointless
or you can literally sell anything or create a ponzi scheme as long as it mentions crypto blockchain nft,s etc

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Reality is what you can get away with.

I remember seeing the farm animals clothed & the press conferences about how keeping them naked was horrific.

Along with birds aren’t real, there are also the FB groups where younger people have been cosplaying Boomers. They try to outdo each other & be over the top… but somehow they fail to out Boomer the Boomers.

Its sort of sad the old school satirical groups have mostly dried up, but part of this might be driven by the absolute fear they will find themselves leading an army of insane people.
(See also: Q recently went to ground & the various factions are dividing to follow new leadership. How many people are still in TX waiting for JFK Jr. to return to the living & lead the charge against the devil worshiping child eaters?)

It used to be we could smile & nod at the clearly insane, now they get elected to office and infect more people.

I think the true pity is while Congress is focused on fake news and misinformation on all of these other platforms but they manage to ignore how much damage is coming from their own membership spreading outright lies & they refuse to do anything while demanding FB does a perfect job.

Doublethink at its finest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Meanwhile, Murdoch gets to pay to get a fucking link tax into Australia, Singapore gets to sue people over "private" Facebook posts, and China manages to manipulate 1.3 billion people into hating over a hundred million people while simultanesously jailing any Uyghurs who don’t conform and trading with the Taliban.

Not that I don’t appreciate the joke and deeper implications, but I can’t laugh at these things anymore. Especially when I have to live with the consequences of the r8se of China and the New Propaganda schemes.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Reminds of older 4chan. (Not so) funny how jokes about the "windmill of peace and tolerance" attracted moral panics (which attracted the wrong sort of crowd who took those panics seriously). Pool’s closed, everyone. Time for another generation to take the mantle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sadly though it won’t stop the supposed "adults" in the room to winge and moral panic and in the process mess things up for everyone including the people they supposedly wish to protect.

Mind you, this is only in the case people who genuinely believe in the moral panic and not those who like to use said moral panic to attack what they precieve as a personal grievance or pet issue coughtcoughSection 230cough

Yes, I Know I'm Commenting Anonymously says:

lies wirthin lies

Don’ t believe any of it. The government has indoctrinated those kids into actually believing birds are real. That is what the school system is for! And the papers are well know for shilling for the government!! The only news from this is that the government has paid off that `one million to shut up’ offer that Mike used to flaunt!!!

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