Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Conspiracy Theories
July 20, 2020 12:22 PM - Season 7, Episode 18 - Subscribe

This week, from the void: many administration and state officials want to reopen the country as quickly as possible despite how stupid that is. And Now: Parents On Television Just Want One Thing (to send kids back to school). Main story concerns conspiracy theories, those things that tons of people believe in, are wantonly spread by Facebook and YouTube, and that are argubly tearing the world apart. On YouTube (22m) To help convince people to stop believing so much bullshit, Last Week Tonight asked several celebrities (Alex Trebek, John Cena, Paul Rudd, Catherine O'Hara and Billy Porter) to make videos asking people to think more critically about what they read on the internet, and put them up at

Oliver's three questions to ask before spreading a conspiracy theory:
  1. Is there a rational, non-conspiracy explanation? The 5G coverage map and the Coronavirus case map look similar at first glance, but they also match up pretty well to population density maps and maps of Domino's Pizza locations.
  2. Has this been held up to scrutiny by experts, and if so, what do those experts say? Be wary of claims that cite a single source. What do most credible doctors agree on? (So you see, evolution and climate change actually exist.)
  3. How plausible is this conspiracy as a practical matter? Some conspiracies are true, like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Edward Snowden's revelations about government surveillance, but they unraveled because of the large number people who would have to keep the secret. The bigger the conspiracy, the more likely it'll implode.
F.37: "Goodus Troubleum," JOHN LEWIS
posted by JHarris (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just a quick correction - the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment had nothing to do with the Tuskegee Airmen.
posted by obliquity of the ecliptic at 6:39 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Aaaah I was wondering why I couldn't find the connection on the wikipedia page, thanks.
posted by JHarris at 8:25 PM on July 20, 2020

Mod note: Post text amended accordingly!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:28 PM on July 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's cool that Oliver was able to activate acquaintances and friends to help do the truthtruthtruth anti-conspiracy PSA, but I'm skeptical of its effectiveness.

Oliver and Cena sharing a birthdate and year... that good grace on Oliver's part.

I've noticed that Colbert, Myers, and Oliver have declined to get haircuts - even when some of them may be in positions to safely (personally and societally) get their hair done.

The skepticism (and the correlation =/= causation) - I feel that his audience is already familiar or begins sympathetic to the ideas. Not sure that HBO subscribers are all that effective as social equality influencers to non-HBO subscribers.

But it's feelgood and stuff.

Maybe if some of Oliver's far-right enemies met him middle ground and jointly advocated non-insanity?
posted by porpoise at 10:45 PM on July 20, 2020

Oliver and Cena sharing a birthdate and year... that good grace on Oliver's part.

Anybody else feel obliged to go and double check that afterwards?
posted by scorbet at 11:49 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Haircuts don't necessarily mean getting them done in a public place.

The way I see it, there's no harm in these pieces. And, like I just said in the current FPP, it's easy to fall into the trap of believing the idiom that "everyone" or "no-one" does/believes something, when in fact personal situations vary tremendously, Trump's approval ratings (to pick a separate but analogous measure) still goes up and down in response to news, and the John Cena and Alex Trebek clips at the very least have a peer pressure effect on their primary audiences (of wrestling fans & memesters in the first case and elderly people in the second). So, please, let's not tear people with lots of resources and an apparent legitimate desire to do good down?
posted by JHarris at 3:05 AM on July 21, 2020

Lol, I squealed when I realized from the introduction to the "true true truth" bits that the person your elderly relatives welcome into their homes was going to be Alex Trebek. I am the most elderly millennial.

That flat earth Adele parody was also amazing.

I think it's funny we're assuming the people who need these videos aren't Last Week Tonight viewers - maybe not for coronavirus conspiracy theories, but I am sure there are people who watch this show who could benefit from applying that 3 part test to some of their beliefs.

I want to find the study (article?) he referenced talking about how long it would take various conspiracies to unravel if they were real. That's an interesting thought experiment - not sure I believe they could have kept faking the moon landing under wraps for almost 4 years, tbh.
posted by the primroses were over at 4:25 AM on July 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconded on that study. That might be interesting for other applications.
posted by JHarris at 6:35 AM on July 21, 2020

I want to find the study (article?) he referenced talking about how long it would take various conspiracies to unravel if they were real.

Based on this news report it's this study by Dr. David Grimes.
posted by scorbet at 7:05 AM on July 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

The way John Cena couldn't talk without also simultaneously removing his shirt really amused me.
posted by simonw at 8:23 AM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

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