Webworm's conspiracy coverage so far
I will keep this page updated with links to all my pieces on the conspiracy madness taking over your timeline.
Below you’ll find all the pieces I’ve written about specific aspects of conspiracy theory culture — from QAnon to influencers, COVID-19 to “Save Our Children”.
Maybe there’s something in here you can forward to friends and family spiralling out into conspiracy hell.
All the work on Webworm is possible thanks to its subscribers. If you want to help too, you can sign up here:
Meet Tova O'Brien, the reporter whose interview with a QAnon-adjacent politician has gone viral
It’s wonderful to watch: a New Zealand political reporter getting stuck into Jami-Lee Ross, a grifter conspiracy theorist who’d campaigned for a place in parliament.
The infection in our election
I asked New Zealand illustrator Daniel Vernon to come up with a comic strip that illustrates how conspiracy shit spreads during an election cycle.
Why are conspiracy theories dripping in racism?
I talk to researcher and scholar Tina Ngata about why conspiracy theories are dripping in racism, and why those spreading the message aren’t necessarily who you’d expect.
The red-pilling of Billy TK Jnr
I examine how someone can fall down a rabbit hole of misinformation and disinformation by examining the Facebook timeline of New Zealand political hopeful Billy TK Jnr. I scour his entire Facebook feed, examining how and why he embraced this new system of belief. This is one man’s descent down the rabbit hole. And it happened alarmingly quickly.
I talk to kiwi conspiracy rapper, “Sesh” (subscribers only)
The rapper formerly known as “Derty Sesh” has dropped the derty. Now he focusses on doing his own research. Oh no.
Where were you when you heard the news about Donald Trump contracting COVID-19? (subscribers only)
Why this news has the ability to turn us all into conspiracy theorists.
Faking It: QAnon from the Inside
I talk to someone who’s been observing QAnon followers from the inside — by creating a social media persona that reflects “a classic conspiracy-minded divorced dad.”
From 2016 to 2020, the media still falls for Pizzagate
I take a look at how a stupid idea from 2016 ends up in a New Zealand newspaper in 2020. It’s time to wisen up, folks.
Make up something fucking new, so that I can actually give a shit!
These are the words of Joseph Uscinski, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami. In this newsletter (and complimentary podcast) we discuss how belief in conspiracy theories remain stable; that the problem of people disappearing down conspiratorial rabbit holes is no worse than it’s ever been.
Reflecting on "James", the Reddit user whose theory got out of control (subscribers only)
Our interview with the man who kicked off a conspiracy theory ended with a call from the police, a lot of discussion, and time for us to reflect.
Webworm talks to the man who started the COVID-19 outbreak rumour in New Zealand
A conversation with the man who started a conspiracy theory that rapidly spun out of control in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
The Attraction of Sloppy Nonsense
A conversation with science fiction Sonny Whitelaw, about the moment fans began to believe their Stargate novels were real. We explore what this “sloppy nonsense” says about conspiracy adherents in 2020.
Sloppy Nonsense - a conversation (subscribers only)
For Webworm subscribers, this is a 30 minute podcast with Sonny Whitelaw, as we discuss magical thinking, science and religion.
As New Zealand gets new COVID-19 cases, we immediately see the influence of QAnon down under
I explore why mommy bloggers are falling down the conspiracy rabbit hole, and why it’s happening fast. I also talk to an expert on Alternate Reality Games, looking at how QAnon is essentially a great big game that’s fun to play.
“I’m just outlining facts”: watching New Zealand getting red-pilled, in real time
I look at how New Zealand politicians have played directly into QAnon’s hands. It’s frightening, disheartening and sad.
Want to cure this conspiracy hell? Turn off Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
I look at how social media giants contribute to the spread of dangerous misinformation and disinformation, and what we can do about it.
A week of conspiratorial madness (subscribers only)
A 20-minute podcast where I reflect on where society sits with conspiracy theories in 2020, including QAnon entering politics, social media influencers jumping on board, and possible ways we combat all this rot.
Why #saveourchildren is not about saving our children
Yes, child trafficking is a real thing. But the stuff you’re seeing on your Facebook timeline is another thing entirely, and doing real harm. I talk to Travis View, an expert on QAnon, who points out that he’s yet to see a QAnon follower who’s actually achieved anything real (besides shooting up a pizza joint).
Won’t somebody please think of the children!
This looks in a broader sense at how the need to “protect children” is being co-opted by conspiracy movements — to the point where suddenly children are allegedly being sold using online homeware stores (they aren’t).
How to talk to people stuck in a conspiracy theory hellscape
I talk to Mick West, the man who created the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, got really rich, retired, and now debunks conspiracy theories full time. He has some tips on how to talk to friends and family who have fallen down the rabbit hole.
Billy TK junior: An international assassin slips into New Zealand
This piece explores the fundamental problem with New Zealand political hopeful Billy TK Jnr: mainly, that he’s full of shit when claiming things like “an international assassin was sent to New Zealand to kill me”.
Influencer culture should be burnt to the ground
A look at why influencers are getting on board the conspiracy bandwagon, and why that’s incredibly dangerous. A case study looking at celebrity chef Pete Evans and New Zealand heartthrob Art Green.
Freedom of speech vs spewing out misinformation
A followup the previous piece, I look closer at why calls for “freedom of speech!” don’t necessarily mean you should spout bullshit 24/7.
Why has the world gone so horny for conspiracy theories?
I talk to academic Dr M R. X. Dentith about the mindset behind modern day conspiracy culture, and why it’s so engrained in our conversations right now.
The QAnon documentary: I watched it so you don’t have to
I watched a “documentary” created by QAnon adherents that had gone viral. In this piece, I break down what QAnon is for those stumbling on it for the first time.
Plandemic: Please, for the love of God, stop spreading these godawful “documentaries”
Back when New Zealand first went into lockdown, another “documentary” by QAnon types started flooding facebook timelines. Here I look at why medical misinformation about COVID-19 is so alarming.
Webworm appearances in other media:
Thanks to all those in other media who are picking up on Webworm’s reporting in this space.
It was a real hoot to go on Armchair Expert — Dax Shepard and Monica Padman are a lot of fun:
David joins the Armchair Expert to discuss all things conspiracy theories, from QAnon to Wayfairgate to Flat Earthers. The two discuss how these conspiracies happen, what makes people susceptible to them, and how to have constructive discussions with their believers. Dax confesses how sad he is that he can’t hang out with David every day.
Many thanks to Dave Chen, who had me as a guest on his podcast Culturally Relevant, talking conspiracies, documentary, and QAnon.
TV3’s The Project popped over to my place to talk QAnon for this piece.
I was interviewed by Dr. M R. X. Dentith for this podcast The Podcaster’s Guide to the Conspiracy.
I spoke to John Campbell on Breakfast about the origins of a dangerous COVID-19 conspiracy theory that spread on social media, and to Jesse Mulligan about political hopeful Billy TK Jnr, and the link between Evangelical Christianity and QAnon.
The Spinoff has been hugely supportive in sharing my work, republishing “A conversation with the man who started the Covid-19 outbreak rumour” and “How Billy TK plunged down the Covid conspiracy rabbit hole.”
Stuff’s election podcast, Tick. Tick, spoke to me about my recent reporting on conspiracy theory culture.
If you think anyone would enjoy Webworm (which also features other newsletters not related to conspiracy theories!) — feel free to pass this on.
Here’s to a less horrible world.