(American political discourse, 2017, colorized)
Conspiracy theories are proposed narratives which shape assumptions of how the world functions, that exist 'outside' of mainstream thought. Propaganda is a broader term for specific instances in which information is portrayed in a specific way for a desired end. There is quite a bit of similarity between conspiracy theories and propaganda, in that often times they employ similar tactics to persuade people and inculcate specific ideas. The most important difference is the degree of visibility between them. Often times conspiracy theories, if stated as fact, come into conflict with mainstream ideas which tend to challenge them in a direct way. Propaganda is different in the sense that it is actively weaved into popular discourse as a given truth, and as a result is much more difficult to challenge directly.
The internet, though particularly the app-based internet that we find ourselves on today, allows for the spread of both conspiracy and propaganda through algorithms which inadvertently propagate the three men make a tiger fallacy. You see a fact taken way out of context and because you viewed the page, algorithms direct you to similar content. This creates a perfect environment for fallacious information to spread, be it conspiracies theories about the Federal Reserve or the Illuminati or your run-of-the-mill partisan hackery.
The effect of this discourse is apparent. (Reference tire-fire, pictured above.) But it runs deeper than Occupy Democrats posts your slacktivist friend shares. The three men make a tiger fallacy runs rampant in the media as well. Having to do with some of the most profound and serious allegations that can be made, Russian interference in the 2016 election. Not to mention the fact that the Intelligence Community Assessment, which so many base their indictment on, is all claim, no evidence. You could say this is just to protect important sources; they said the same about evidence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq over a decade ago, that turned out well. Not only this but many stories in prominent mainstream journals, NYT, WSJ, whoever you like, run incredibly fallacious headlines that are redacted and corrected weeks later, after the damage is already done.
Though realistically speaking, media manipulation of the public isn't that new. Those interested should look into Operation Mockingbird. The present practice of journalists is one of close contact and symbiosis with intelligence officials. The journalists get a firebomb of a story, and the intelligence officials get to spread specific information for their ends. Essentially media outlets are often co-opted to spread certain propaganda.
The instance of Russia interference is incredibly salient; claims that they hacked into Vermont's electrical grid, that Wikileaks is a Russian propaganda outlet, or the Golden Shower dossier nonsense are all part of a growing amount of white noise that operate under this fallacious pretext. That if the public can feel as if the tiger (Russia) is in the market, that they will believe it, even if it isn't true. The more the public is inculcated with this view that our president is a Russia stooge, the more they're inclined to accept it as fact.
But let me back up. It might be true. The issue is that in present discourse the jury has already deemed Trump guilty of collusion and cooperation with Russia on fallacious pretexts. Ideally a select committee to investigate this would be great, but there is no time for methodical, publicly accountable investigations, there are tire-fires to light.
Amid all of this, the real question is how to avoid being fallacious in a world with such ingrained propaganda? View the relationship between journalists and their sources as one where they have their own interests, and most of the time it isn't promoting objectivity. It can be incredibly difficult but the immediate goal is not perfection, it is to do better. So do better y'all.
Because only YOU can prevent tire fires.