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Black Mass Appeal: Modern Satanism for the Masses

Jan 18, 2022

The history of Satanism is bedeviled by misinformation, and in the age of social media, a lie can travel to Hell and back to avoid correction. As hopefully savvy digital consumers, how can we better train ourselves to separate fact from affliction?




Misinformation vs disinformation

  • Misinformation is bad information spread by mistake
  • Disinformation is bad information spread on purpose
  • Bad actors need more people to amplify their message -- they may try to persuade an influencer to spread their disinformation as-is -- or as a “debunking.” Simply repeating a rumor can perpetuate it, add fuel to the fire, and even legitimize it.
    • Imposter content: Using the names, logos of well-known, reputable outlets to steal credibility
    • Weaponized content
      • Content can be used out of context
      • Old content is reshared as new, with new context
  • Why do people fall for disinformation? Because they want to. People like things that confirm what they already believe, and reject information that challenges them.


Critical reading of the news

  • Basic credulity – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
    • This goes double for anything to do with money or products you see online. (Do not buy shit from Facebook ads!)
    • Is it realistic? Would someone really say or do what the article is saying? Would you do that thing yourself? Would any reasonable person?
  • Understand how headlines are written – usually by someone else, not the article writer, and therefore doesn't always encapsulate what the article actually says. It's meant to grab your attention – whether for good or bad.
  • Opinion vs news – sometimes editorials look a lot like reporting.
  • Slow down! Articles (and certainly their headlines) are meant to provoke emotion and a knee-jerk response. Ask yourself, why am I being made to feel this way? What reaction does the writer want me to have? What reaction do I actually have, once I have more time to process the information?
  • Who owns what? Consider who really owns the website or publication you’re reading.
  • Who wrote the article? Have you heard of them before (do they even exist?), or read their other work? What do their previous stories tell you about them and their point of view?
  • When was it written? This is one of the easiest to miss, especially on social media. Make sure the article isn’t out of date – and if there’s no date at all, be suspicious. 
  • Who is the target audience? Was this written to appeal to a certain kind of person?
  • Verify with other independent sources. Does the information fit with what you already know, or what you’ve read elsewhere? If you can only find one article that says something, that’s a red flag. (And it doesn’t count if all the other sources you find lead back to only the first article!)
  • Read the original. This is especially important when it comes to science writing. News articles try to summarize super-long scientific studies in just a paragraph or two – they could be cherry-picking what the study says, or miss the point entirely. When you can, click through to the original study and check it out – and again, if there are no links to sources… that’s a bad sign.
  • What isn’t being said? Not citing sources is the big one. But you have to ask questions of what you’re reading. Most mainstream news sites at least try to offer a different perspective / counterpoint to the main narrative of their piece. For example, if a politician really said something inflammatory, there would be a reaction from an opposing party. 


The wild west of unsourced shit on social media

  • Social media is great for communicating with people you actually know – but be wary of accounts from people you’ve never heard of. If someone has shared what looks to be original content (i.e., not a link to an article on another publication), check their account to see if they seem legitimate.
  • Who’s doing the sharing? Is it a reporter? A politician? Some random person? A celebrity? Just because it’s a big account or a famous person doesn’t mean they’re legit. There are lots of famous dummies out there.
  • When was the account made? Brand-new accounts with no profile / cover pictures or friends / followers might be bots or sock puppet accounts. 
  • What’s their location? Are they geographically located close enough to what’s said in the post / shown in the photo?
    • There is a private group on Facebook for Satanic Bay Area that is for locals only (for privacy and planning reasons). People will request to join the group, and answer the question of whether they’re local as “yes” – but their location on Facebook says otherwise. Or they don’t have a location at all. That’s when I go to their accounts and look at things like their place of work (maybe it has a location), the Pages they follow (if they like a lot of restaurants in Chicago, maybe that’s where they’re actually located), and even their photos (if they say they’re from San Jose but they’re posting pics of snow in their backyard… they ain’t in San Jose).
  • Is the photo altered? Even a skillful cropping can change the meaning of an image. Look for signs of Photoshopping. Use Google reverse image search / TinEye to find the pictures elsewhere on the web.
    • Deepfake videos
  • Cross-reference Google Maps / Instagram location tags for visual clues
    • Check things like street signs, their colors, their fonts, etc. Does it match up with what you know of the city’s street signs?
    • Look for seasonal cues. Are the leaves the right color for that part of the year? What does the terrain, plants look like for a particular area?
  • Image degradation: if you suspect the photo’s not the original, see if there’s blurriness, pixelation that indicates it was screenshotted and reshared.


Stop the cycle

  • Don’t share a story that might be untrue (duh). If you accidentally do, go ahead and delete it. If you want, maybe make a post discussing how you were fooled – but best not to leave the bad article up.
  • If you see someone else sharing a story you know to be untrue, speak up (but don’t be a dick).
  • It is extreeeeeeeeemely difficult to dissuade someone from believing something. 
    • When someone has internalized a belief and made it part of their identity, attacking that belief feels to them like you’re attacking them personally. They become defensive and work even harder to justify that belief to themselves.
    • The debunker becomes the bad guy, and any facts you present are written off as coming from biased sources.
  • Instead, try asking questions. Where did you hear this information? Do you know the person who shared it? How did it make you feel when you read it or saw it? Have you ever heard of that happening before? Why do you think it’s interesting or believable?
  • Don’t publicly humiliate them. Send them a private message or better yet, speak in person.
  • Consider what else is going on in their life. Is there trouble at home or at work? These may be sources of anxiety they’re unknowingly trying to soothe with conspiracies as a distraction.
  • If you need to go low- or no-contact with someone, do what is best for yourself.
  • But also consider that conspiracy believers are often socially isolated, and their conspiracy groups give them a sense of community. Perhaps engage on neutral topics – go ahead and comment on Aunt Shirley’s cat pictures, but do not engage when she starts talking about the Flat Earth.
    • Encourage them to spend less time online. Just taking a break from social media can loosen the grip it has over them. Spend time with them in person, away from triggers like television. Remind them of the hobbies and pastimes they used to enjoy before becoming entrenched in conspiracy.
  • Set a good example. Sharing real, verifiable news – and mentioning why you know it’s true – on social media can expose people to another point of view. But don’t target your posts at anyone, or engage in arguments in the comments. 
    • People who like to say they do “research” are more likely to believe an article they find themselves, as opposed to something sent to them. It’s a kind of gamification of conspiracy theory.