Washington Square Park Conspiracy Theory

November 28, 2018 |  Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Washington Square Park Conspiracy Theory

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 For this project I set out to create a conspiracy theory that appeared plausible enough to be believed, yet one that was still absurd enough that if given any thought would be easily dismissed.  To do this, I considered what types of theories many people might find believable and how I should approach a random stranger of the public to present this idea. It was my desire for the presentation to be innocuous as I wanted to pass the theory in disguise of real information.  I see my future career as a history educator (be it in a museum, school, or archives) as role where I can challenge and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to reconsider what they know and where they learned the information from. With an academic, as well as personal interest, in the histories of spiritualism and magic it is very important to me to approach new learning experiences with a skeptical eye.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 A few self-assigned goals I set when undertaking this conspiracy theory project were, to encourage historical inquiry by the general public, examine how skeptical the participants were in terms of random “facts” of history given, and to gauge the public’s reaction to a current issue that is up and coming.  In order to fulfill all of these requirements I determined I would need to create a theory based around a public landmark many people have visited but may not necessarily know much about. To make the theory relatable to a long standing, yet still relevant issue, I thought to use a topic on many people’s minds – government spying.  This hits a mark with many conspiracy theorists and is also recognizable by the general public who may have heard of such theories but do not pay them any attention. It was also my intention to survey the warriness of the public to claims made by a random stranger (myself) claiming to be a person of authority.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 My conspiracy theory for this assignment was to pose as a historian of Washington Square Park and offer information about the park’s history, and more importantly, the history of the arch.  The “unknown” information I presented to park-goers who would listen to my history is that the arch is currently used as a United States government listening post, filled with auditory, visual, and technological scanners which record the information of anyone who passes through the arch.  Prior to conducting the survey “in the field” I had to first learn about the park’s history. By looking up online articles and books, I discovered key years during the arch’s creation and subsequent upkeep that helped me create a narrative for when the government could have installed covert spying devices in and around the arch.  By using the dates as terms of authority, I provided “supporting evidence” for my argument in order to make my claims appear more credible. I also began each interaction by stating that I was a “historian of the park and was wondering if the participant would like to learn more about the site they were visiting,” in order to appeal to people’s general trusting nature and sense of subject authority.  Attached to this post is a bulleted list of the talking points (factual and made up) I used in order to tell the story of how the government converted the arch into a secret listening post.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The results of this survey were surprisingly grim in terms of what the public was willing to readily believe without any sort of tangible evidence from someone who claimed to be a subject authority.  After each interview with a park patron, I was certain to follow up with them and correct any statements I had previously said that were either erroneous or misleading. This ensured they did not continue to pass false information about the park or the arch to others.  As I presented each group with the story of how the arch came to be a government listening outpost, I noted how their facial reactions and body language changed. It should be noted that all individuals interviewed readily believed the United States government was using the arch in Washington Square Park as a covert listening station.  Nearly 90% of all participants reacted in some sort of astonishment to the idea that the government would be privately listening to their own citizens and potential international tourists in a public setting. Those same participants were nonplussed when I mentioned current smart-devices they may have in their homes or even their pockets are already “listening” (albeit through digital cookies).  The remaining 10% who were not surprised readily believed the government was already listening to our conversations through use of the NSA or National Security Agency. When asked why they believed the arch was being used as an outpost, the participants answered with variations of “I (the park historian) had just told them this information” or that they believe “the government is always listening and this is just one more avenue for them to do so.”  Herein lies the crux of what I had hoped to discover; whether a random individual would readily believe unknowingly false information based simply on the supposed credentials of a stranger. As a follow up question, I asked the participants whether they would have gone home to research the information for themselves either online or at their local library and all of them said they would not have done so. When asked why, a mix of answers centered around “they trusted me (the historian)” or “they could not be bothered to verify the information” we the most common ones given.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Although there were a few interviewees who appeared more skeptical of the initial surprise that the Washington Square Park arch housed secret government listening devices; it did not take much effort to eventually convince each and every one that such technology existed.  Not a single participant walked away in the middle of the interaction making a claim that I was a conspiracy theorist, and all eventually had to be told they had been lied to. This survey clarified to me the susceptible nature in which our society resides with information and so-called authoritative figures.  In the age of the internet, where anonymous figures can claim unfounded authority on any subject, it is more imperative than ever to understand how our population absorbs information and through which mediums. It is also not enough just to know this, but in-turn make the effort to teach younger generations (and to a degree every generation) how to be leary of supposed experts and cautious of information sources.  While I was not acting out of malice in my study, there are those who purposefully misrepresent facts and history in an effort to control narratives and influence public opinion one way or another.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Washington Square Park Conspiracy List


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