Manufacturing reality in times of crisis

I don’t believe in facts

Embellished by social media, COVID-19 has triggered a veritable conspiracy boom, further eroding scientific and journalistic standards of objectivity and truth. Faced with crisis and the unknown, we look for answers beyond traditional media; and there are many charlatans ready to offer their services of providing easily digestible explanations.

Anti-vaxxers, climate change skeptics, anti-5Gers, flat-earthers, and chemtrailers all thrive during corona times, from the bottom of the web to celebrity influencers on Instagram. By generating alternative modes of narrating the world outside of the previously sanctioned spheres of knowledge and opinion production like the university, conspiracy theories raise important questions about where epistemic authority currently resides, and even whether truth is still a meaningful vector in an information-saturated media sphere. For this event, the Open Intelligence Lab (, University of Amsterdam) has invited conspiracy theory researchers from anthropology, sociology, media studies and art to reflect on contemporary conspiracy culture by engaging in a moderated panel discussion preceded by short presentations of their research.

About the speakers

Stef Aupers is a cultural sociologist and works as professor media culture at the Institute for Media Studies, Communication Sciences, at KU Leuven. He published widely in peer-reviewed international journals on topics such as religion and spirituality in popular culture; a re-enchantment of digital technology; sociality in online computer games and conspiracy culture. His most recent, FWO-funded project is ‘Imagining Opaque Power: The Production and Consumption of Conspiracy Theories on YouTube’.

Riley Harmon is an artist that engages with internet conspiracy culture in his work and creates forms of dissimulative role play. He explores contemporary epistemological uncertainty, terror management, and the filling in gaps of knowledge with fantasy.

Peter Knight is a professor of American Studies at the University of Manchester (UK), and is currently a visiting professor at Leiden University. He writes on conspiracy theories, and the culture of finance.

Sara Polak is Assistant Professor in American Studies at Leiden University, with a focus on US Presidents and their media use: currently, this means Trump and Twitter. She has edited a volume on Online Vitriol (AUP), and one on virus outbreak narratives that go viral.

Marc Tuters is a researcher affiliated with the Digital Methods Initiative and the director of the Open Intelligence Lab. His current research focuses on how online subcultures constitute themselves as political movements.

Daniël de Zeeuw (moderator) is a lecturer in new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on fringe subcultures online, and he has a longstanding interest in conspiracy theories.