By Ellie Halpert

The second episode of Netflix’s hit docuseries “Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies, and the Internet” takes a deep dive into conspiracy theories. In particular the episode focuses on the death of Seth Rich – a 27 year old man working for the Democratic National Party prior to the 2016 presidential election. His death was initially assumed to be a robbery gone wrong,until the internet began to speculate he was murdered for political reasons. False information begins to leak – including the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence) claiming they believed Rich was going to meet FBI agents and was instead murdered by hitmen with a connection to Hillary Clinton. Even the founder of Wikileaks implied in a video interview that Rich was murdered due to his actions as a source for the site.

This episode highlights the chaos that ensues when information spirals out of control. Kelly Weill, a reporter at The Daily Beast states, “Conspiracy theories tend to pick up in traumatic moments – when there’s something that is difficult to explain or difficult to come to emotional terms with.” These conspiracy theories are just the natural way of humans trying to make sense of the world and form patterns, but often, they can cause a lot more panic than the truth. Politically, it is not uncommon for individuals to play into theories in an attempt to gain public traction and attention. Seth Rich’s situation provides a prime case study for encouraging individuals to do their own research and come to conclusions based on the facts, and not just falling into traps set for the public.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel about the current state of US bipartisan politics? Do not discuss your political beliefs, instead discuss other factors, like legitimacy, extremism, and biases.
  2. Brainstorm some solutions to corruption in politics. How do different types of governments (democracies, dictatorships, etc) all lead to corruption in different ways?
  3. “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Do you agree with this quote? Have you ever seen someone be corrupted by power, even on a small scale (think social power, monetary power, etc.)?
  4. Do you like conspiracy theories? Discuss some conspiracy theories that are both plausible and completely implausible. Ex. faked moon landing, flat earth, JFK’s assassination, area 51, bigfoot
  5. Think about a time you made an assumption or jumped to conclusions. Do you think this need for patterns could cause dangerous conspiracy theories to become widespread? Have you ever believed in a conspiracy theory only to later find out it was entirely false?

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