Elements of Disbelief: A Case Study of 9/11 Truthers and the Persistence of Misinformation in the Digital Age

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This thesis examines the essential question: "Do facts matter?" By analyzing the persistence of false beliefs surrounding the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon and the resiliency of alternative counterfactual narratives, this thesis attempts to bring about a better understanding of why myths and misinformation persist so long after clear evidence and common sense would seem to discredit them. The perspective includes the author's personal experience as inadvertent grist for the mill of conspiracy theorists, those who call themselves "9/11 truthers." While it has certainly always been the case that false beliefs can become commonly held misconceptions, this thesis will argue that the Internet has served as a "force-multiplier," giving some nonsensical beliefs virtual eternal life. But the Internet also can, and often does, serve a corrective function, through crowd-sourcing and fact-checking. Still, the question of the efficacy and persuasiveness of fact-based reporting is paramount if one believes a healthy and functioning democracy depends on a well-informed citizenry, and that journalists play a vital, sometimes unique, role in informing the public.