In a recent Ted Talk, the creator of the Bird Aren't Real movement Peter McIndoe spoke about the work he does "deprogramming" the public from the "bird lie".
"We live in a pro-bird civilization drenched in propaganda," McIndoe told the audience, explaining that once he realized that he had to act, going from city to city putting up signs explaining, to the baffled public and a growing number of supporters, that birds are not real.
"We started holding rallies at some of the most evil pro-bird corporations in the world, starting with Twitter, where we brought hundreds out to protest their pro-bird logo," he continued. "Months later, we brought 500 people out to CNN headquarters to demand fairer coverage for bird truthers on air. Then just last year, we brought 2,000 people out to Washington Square in New York City to demand that the mayor shut down every pigeon in the city."
For those uninitiated, the Birds Aren't Real movement claims that birds were once real but have now been replaced with drones by – you guessed it – none other than Barack Obama, back in 2001. The new robot birds are used to monitor Americans, according to the conspiracy theory.
First conceived (or unearthed, depending on whether or not you believe birds are robots and everyone is in on the lie) by a college student in 2017, the conspiracy theory claims that in the 1950s the CIA was faced with two problems:
1) How to surveil the entire US population;
2) How to stop birds poopin' on their fancy CIA cars.
The solution may seem obvious in retrospect, but it was, of course, to replace the birds with tiny robot drones to listen into our every conversation.
"In a stolen transcript from an ex-CIA deputy, she says, 'yeah, the higher ups were so annoyed that birds had been dropping fecal matter on their car windows that they vowed to wipe out every single flying feathered creature in North America'," Birds Aren't Real write on their website (which is well worth checking out for entertainment value).
In 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated for opposing the plan, the theory continues, after seeing a prototype of a "Turkey X500" robot, which would slaughter the real birds ready for replacement. Following several trials and upgrades, the birds were finally released in 2001 by Obama, because that's the kind of thing he does in conspiracy theories.
The movement of course, is not real, and McIndoe does not believe it. As he explains in the Ted Talk, he had grown up around the sorts of nonsense he was trying to satirize.
"The community that I grew up with was hyper conservative and religious, and almost everyone that I knew believed in some form of conspiracy theory, whether it was that Obama was the Antichrist or that there are microchips in the vaccines."
During the years-long stunt, he carefully copied the mannerisms and arguments of conspiracy theorists as he tried to convince the public that birds are robot spies. While in character, people would come up to him and tell him he was stupid, uneducated, or crazy. Though he thought he would find this funny, that wasn't the case.
"Instead I felt the emotions of the character. I felt emboldened and I felt sad and angry."
Over the years, these experiences gave him a different perspective on how we deal with and talk to those on the fringes, down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories.
"We need to think about people's circumstances and reference points, to see them as fellow human beings who want to believe in something and want to belong, just like all of us do in this room," he finished, "because if we continue with our current approach of arguing on the level of belief, it's not going to get us anywhere. We're going to end up with more echo chambers, more disinformation and more polarization."