From the (relatively speaking) harmless theories that Australia doesn't exist or that Marvel's 2011 Captain America movie referenced Covid-19 (spoiler alert, it's spaghetti) to more harmful theories around Covid-19 and the infamous QAnon, conspiracy theories are rife on the Internet.
The problem is, when you're down the rabbit hole, getting out of it is not so easy, even when evidence that contradicts your theory is right in front of your face. Currently, followers of the QAnon conspiracy are having to confront the fact that the so-called "plan" involving Donald Trump winning the presidential election in a moment of reckoning has not come to fruition, and its leader, the anonymous "Q" who mostly posts on the online message board 8kun has gone silent as of November 3, when the election took place.
For some, this has given them a chance to step back and consider, as one user posted on a message board seen by The Washington Post, “have we all been conned?”
One former conspiracy theorist has taken to TikTok to talk about the struggle of getting out of the conspiracy theory mindset, as well as how she got into the theories in the first place. In a series of videos, Tik Tok user @ellev8d describes how she got sucked in by conspiracy theories seven years ago, how they hook you, how her "obsession" lasted for around a year, and the key things that got her back out again to where she now describes herself as an "evidence-based person".
"Watching Info Wars, that's what really hooked me. I began to be obsessed with it, and I became paranoid," she says in the first video, referring to the far-right conspiracy website owned by political extremist Alex Jones, who has been described as "the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America".
She's keen to stress that getting pulled into conspiracy theories isn't something that makes you stupid, and in fact, can highlight good qualities such as a curious mind.
"It's natural to want answers. It's natural to want immediate answers. That's why conspiracy theories help those people who are thirsty for answers, who want an explanation to whatever is going on that doesn't seem right to them," she says.
She's far from alone in her experience.
"The dangerous ones are where truth is mixed with lies," one Facebook user said on a repost of her video. "You feel like you are being gaslit. I honestly think if you've ever been the victim of narcissistic abuse or controlling relationships you are more likely to believe conspiracy theories because you a have heightened fight or flight defensive response."
In the end, @ellev8d found conspiracy theories to be addictive, but ultimately unsatisfying.
"Conspiracy theories are just a pacifier. But this pacifier is spiked with poison. It is taking over your mind. And the more conspiracy theories you start to believe, the more irrational your thoughts become, and you go deep into cognitive dissonance," she says.
"No matter what other evidence appears for you or what others tell you, you cannot come out of the denial of the fact that these conspiracy theories are not true. So you're going to hold tight to them. You're going to argue them until you turn blue. I get it. I've been there."
@ellev8d explains that it was searching for evidence of what the conspiracy theory websites were telling her that led her to realize there was none to be found. She recommends that for others, the best way to work on media literacy is to start getting your news from trusted sources that check their facts before they publish.
The realization that something you've believed for a long time is not real can be devastating, particularly if you have based your identity around your convictions.
Speaking to The Washington Post, one former QAnon follower described how he was left with dark thoughts after realizing it was all nonsense when many of Qs predictions failed to come true. “If I didn’t have family that loved me I probably would have committed suicide,” he said. “It was really a terrible feeling to know that you are this stupid and this wrong.”
@ellev8d had a similar awakening, when she realized that if the conspiracy theories were even vaguely true, all media platforms would be clamouring to publish them on the front page. It can leave people feeling manipulated, gullible, and unsure who to trust.
She says it isn't easy to change your way of thinking, but improving her media literacy helped her, as she detailed in another video.
"I used trusted news sources to get out of the conspiracy hole. Right now a lot of us are like 'I don't know who to trust anymore'. I get it. That's where your work comes in," she said. "To detect misinformation, or biased news even, requires media literacy. That means you need to understand the ins and outs of your source. How are they getting their stories to you? What words are they using? Images? Maybe even famous people? And are they providing legitimate linked sources?"
"Trusted news exists," she says. "You just have to dig sometimes."