Thinky Post: The Internet, Patterns, Conspiracy Theories, and Reality

Oh boy, a thinky post! Inspired by the really interesting new Cecil Hotel documentary on Netflix. It is less of a true crime story, and more of a “who are the people who are obsessed with true crime and why” story.

I’m gonna give you an example from this documentary. A mysterious disappearance happened of a tourist in LA. The police released a video of her which caught the interest of the internet and suddenly dedicated websites and groups were popping up everywhere. And they started finding “weird” things like that the bookstore she visited just before her death has a website which is registered to an address in the victims hometown!!!! Oooooo!!!! Spooky!!!!

Image result for cecil hotel netflix

But then you start thinking that through. On the one hand, we have a person about whom we know almost everything (the college she went to, the town were she grew up, etc. etc.). And on the other hand, we have the internet ability to find out all kinds of details about any other random object of interest. If we hadn’t found that the bookstore’s website was registered to her home town, we would have found that one of the bookstore employers had a cousin who went to her university. Or that the store next to the bookstore was owned by someone who was a fan of the same music group as the victim. When you know everything about everything, you can always find a connection.

It’s not hard. You can do it with anything. It’s Lincoln’s birthday today, and also the birthday of the founder of the Arya Samaj reform movement. And the Arya Samaj was officially founded on April 10, 1875 which is almost EXACTLY one decade after Lincoln died. Oooooo. Spoooooooky. Or, you could just say “huh, now that we have the ability to look at a long list of dates of everything all in one place, we will inevitably find odd connections that are potentially meaningless”.

One of the connections I found most ridiculous was that someone had posted an angry death metal music video online that showed a woman being chased through a forest the day after she disappeared. She didn’t disappear in a forest, the woman in the video looked nothing like her, there was no indication that the person who posted the video had any connection. But the video released the day after she disappeared. So, any amateur death metal video posted on that day inevitably means a connection? Yes, that is the argument.

The flipside of this is that we have all this internet information at our fingertips we forget we are not seeing a massive amount of stuff that exists in the REAL WORLD. Again, going back to this documentary, they go between interviews with internet “investigators”, and interviews with the people in the police and working at the hotel. The “investigators” are tracking down music videos that were posted the day after. The police are searching the hotel, talking to her family, doing an autopsy, considering expert evidence. The people working at the hotel are dealing with deaths and accidents on a weekly basis because it is that kind of hotel and they find nothing special about this particular case.

Image result for cecil hotel
Something else the documentary handles well is the way people are insulated from tragedy. If you work at a SRO kind of place, you know about suicide, about sudden death, and sudden violence, about all kinds of things. You don’t find it unique or fascinating, you find it a difficult part of your job and you move on. It is the folks who are lucky enough to be at a remove from all this that find it fascinating. That’s why I am enjoying True Crime myself so much, I’ve never experienced violence, I can watch these shows with a light heart and no fear. It’s a gift.

In the present day we have seen over and over again how the internet feeds into this strange cycle of believing internet “facts” over things in the real world. Hrithik-Kangana is a good example. Hrithik went to the actual police, he left his house and got in his car and drove to a building and talked to another human person who then talked to other human people and looked at physical objects in the world and confirmed his story. Kangana went to the internet and tried to create a web of details to support herself. And people loved that, having someone bring together all of these strange details and claim it to be proof of “truth”, rather than just basic boring facts.

Maybe it is because we can “see” the evidence ourselves when it is online? I can’t hold Hrithik’s laptop in my hand, or look at the stamps on his passport for myself. But I can read Kangana’s interviews and look at the photoshopped images she has provided and all kinds of things. So I would rather look at that and believe I can “solve” it for myself, than trust people who have seen the other evidence I don’t have access to in order to solve it myself.

The human mind wants to find connections, if you give us any 3 things we will try to build a pattern. Right now looking around my room I can see a Kleenex box, a dog, a jigsaw puzzle, nail polish remover, and a clock. And now my mind wants to go “the kleenex is to wipe off the nail polish which is staining the jigsaw puzzle and I am timing myself with the clock because I have to finish before I walk the dog”. Or, alternatively, these are 5 random items out of the hundreds of items in my room and they have no connection to each other.

And the Shahrukh standee is to distract the dog while he waits for his walk that can’t happen until I have finished with the nail polish remover and the Kleenex to prepare for my puzzle. SEE! It all makes sense! It’s not that I used the nail polish remover a week ago and haven’t put it away, or that the Kleenex is to blow my nose because of allergies or that the standee is just to be Beautiful.

I’ve been watching a lot of true crime, and one thing I have learned is that the cops are smarter than you think. And most crimes are a lot dumber. They come to a crime scene, they ignore the 5 random things, they look at the dead body, who inherited the money, and who owned the gun that was used. Boom. Done. Don’t waste time looking at the other stuff. And yes, sometimes this leads to a miscarriage of justice. And many many cops are incompetent. But also, being the person who is there looking at the actual scene, who has seen many similar scenes, that lets you know more than someone just reading about the story. And unfortunately, most real life murders aren’t fascinating mysteries like in books, they are just regular people doing regular terrible things.

That’s the other reason for the conspiracies. It is way easier to believe in some outrageous conspiracy, than the really terrible truths of the world. Here’s another classic documentary I watched recently, the Paradise Lost trilogy. 3 teenage boys arrested for killing 3 little boys and then performing “demonic rituals” on them. After 20 years, the seeming answer might be the simplest. The teenage boys had nothing to do with anything. The stepfather of one of the boys had a history of abusing him, witnessed by many, and went on to almost kill his wife in a fit of abuse a few years later. Most likely he found his stepson with two friends, went into an abusive rage and killed him, then freaked out and killed the friends to cover it up. When a child is killed, it’s the parent. That’s a terrible thing to accept. But that is more often the truth than that it is a Satanic Ritual.

When someone kills themselves, most often they were suffering from mental illness and simply did not want to live. That is terrible, the mind runs away from that and too something more complex and less horrific. When a wife is killed, it is the husband. When a husband is killed, it is the wife. When parents are killed, it is their children. Start there, accept that possibility, before you start running and looking at everything else that could be true.

I even was guilty of this myself recently. Abhishek and Amitabh both went to the hospital for COVID. The whole world assumed it was because of wealth and power and fame that Abhishek got to go with Amitabh. And then Amitabh went home before Abhishek and it became clear that Abhishek was really really sick. And I guess my own mind skittered away from the idea of Abhishek being really really sick because I like him and I didn’t want him to be ill. And so, without even consciously realizing it, I rejected the simple obvious answer and went for the conspiracy. Abhishek isn’t in the hospital because he medically needs to be in the hospital, it is because of a Vast Conspiracy.

Image result for abhishek bachchan hospital

I will say there is one sort of conspiracy thing I believe. But not one that exists on the internet, something in the real world. There are for sure places that have bad “vibes”, as it were. There’s a town in downstate Illinois, Cairo, which has something really wrong with it. I don’t know why, but it is just a dark unpleasant place where everything feels….wrong somehow. I don’t think it is haunted or anything like that, but I think there is something in the air or the water or the quality of the light or something that makes folks angry and depressed. It’s a real thing that certain locations attract suicidal thoughts more than other places, and it is DEFINITELY a real thing that the full moon makes people nutty (I learned that when I was working the night shift, so many crazies on full moon nights). But those aren’t things I believe because of a collection of “facts” and random connections online, those are things I believe because of what I have experienced in the world. Does that make sense?

Okay, that’s my thinky post. We leap for conspiracies or elaborate explanations because the simple ones are too hard, whether it is a parent killing their own child or Abhishek Bachchan being near death. The internet has just made this easier, and given us a preference for random internet connections we can find ourselves over simple real world things you can hold in your hand. The actual “conspiracies”, the actual unexplained things in the world, you are more likely to find them from your own experiences in reality than you are from any internet “sleuthing”. Also, don’t go to Cairo, IL. It’s not a fun spooky wacky place that gets internet blogs, it is just toxic.

Image result for cairo illinois dickens

Oh shoot, I just had another thought! Adding it real quick. The other part of this, which is just basic human curiosity, is that we cannot accept that sometimes it is not a Vast Conspiracy, it is simply none of our business. In the case of the documentary that started all this thinking for me, the Truth was that this poor young woman struggled with mental illness and was off her meds. Out of respect for the family, until they were absolutely sure what had happened, the police did not make public her mental history or her prior suicide attempts. Once they eliminated other possibilities, they said accidental death and buried a bit in the report that the levels in her body indicated she was not taking her pills regularly. It was no conspiracy, it wasn’t even a secret, they were just keeping private something her family had a perfect right to keep private until they were sure it was relevant. Sometimes we don’t know things because those things are simply none of our business. It’s not a conspiracy, it is basic human kindness. Be patient, if it matters then we will find out eventually. If it doesn’t matter, then just leave it be and accept that you can’t know everything about everything.

19 thoughts on “Thinky Post: The Internet, Patterns, Conspiracy Theories, and Reality

  1. I’m just watching the Cecil Hotel thing. I should have been on the case – in the bit where they are searching the roof I thought to myself ‘did they check the water tanks?’ Then I googled and guess where they found the unfortunate girl.

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    • Yeah. Poor thing. Although really all that did was delay the discovery long enough for more internet conspiracies, and make the body a little harder to check for injuries. If you just waited a few months, you still would have had the same answer.

      On Sat, Feb 13, 2021 at 5:15 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I’m on Epi 3 of Cecil Hotel. I already knew Elisa Lam’s story having followed it on You Tube, but so far, the doc is engrossing and well done. Ron Howard produced. The Ron Howard?

    I too am a true crime buff. I don’t try to solve the mysteris and I don’t know why I enjoy them so much, but I have since I was in my twenties. Used to read all the books, Ann Rule was a favorite, and now I hunt for all the dcumentaries. What I’d like to know, my thinky comment on your thinky post: WHY are nice, middle-class ladies like us who probably have no acquaintance with murder, so fascinated by true crime?

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    • I had the same thought! “The Ron Howard”? But I guess, why not, he has a production house. And it’s a really well done show, I love the build where you start out thinking it’s going to be a mysterious disappearance, and then instead it turns into a story about why we label some things “mysterious” and not others.

      I have also been wondering why I have started enjoying True Crime so much! I think for me it is because it’s ultimately about people and relationships? I have no interest in a true crime show about corporate espionage, but learning about the family dynamics that lead to a complex murder carried out by stepchildren against their stepmother is interesting to me. I can’t be alone in that because there are all these shows that specifically focus on that, that give us a long 20 year build up explaining the dynamics before the murder. And that pick murders less for unusual blood and gore and more for details like two brothers dating the same woman or something.

      On Sat, Feb 13, 2021 at 7:49 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • so which is the show where the stepkids killed the stepmom? Also, any other true crime recommendations. I just finished watching the Dirty John series, and American murder, and am looking for more.

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        • The Staircase is amazing, and on Netflix. If you have HBO, The Jinx of course. And The Disappearance at the Cecil Hotel is the one I just watched. There’s also Gone in the Dark and Murder on Middle Beach on HBO.

          The stepkids killing the stepmom is from one of my cheese one episode Investigation Discovery shows, it happens A LOT!!!! Mostly over inheritance or abuse.

          On Mon, Feb 15, 2021 at 7:55 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I think my personal name for that kind of overactive pattern recognition would be „the holiday coincidence effect“. Like, if I were a fortune teller, I’d feel pretty safe predicting to people that on their next vacation, something weirdly unlikely is going to happen. As in, there was only a minuscule chance that out boy‘s primary caretaker at daycare would be driving by at just the right moment to see us taking our big hike during this year‘s summer holiday. But I feel like there’s a better than 50 percent chance that we’re going to encounter *someone* we know during any holiday. Or failing that, experiencing *something* that has very low chances on its own. I mean, that’s the whole reason you need to do a statistical analysis on any scientific findings.

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    • Yes!!!! Or a horoscope, “this year you will experience financial changes”. Well, it would be a rare year when you have no financial changes at all, right?

      With this kind of conspiracy, what you end up with is someone saying “I think there is something weird and unusual about this video”. And then your mind will inevitably find something weird and unusual. Right? Because there always will be SOMETHING. Or, “there is something unexplained about this murder”. And, yep, there always will be. “why did she go to the coffee house farther from her house that morning?” That’s unexplained. But is probably just because she felt like going to a coffee shop farther away from her house that day. You just have to prime people to find the thing you want them to find, and they will do the work for you.

      Which, blech, is how controlled social media campaigns work. “Shahrukh is misogynistic”. Bam! Everyone’s gonna find their own evidence for that being true. It’s easy.

      On Sat, Feb 13, 2021 at 12:49 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Buddy Starch did a one-hit-wonder song after JF Kennedy was assassinated called “History Repeats Itself” —- we all thought is was very spooky at the time.

    Glory, glory, hallelujah
    His truth is marching on
    This is a strange but true story
    Which proves that history
    Does repeat itself
    And the events depicted here
    Happened just one hundred years apart
    Both President Lincoln
    And President Kennedy
    Were concerned with
    The issue of civil rights
    Lincoln was elected
    In eighteen hundred sixty
    Kennedy was elected
    In ninteen hundred sixty
    One hundred years apart
    Both were shot from behind in the head
    Their successors both named Johnson
    Were Southern Democrats
    With seats in the Senate
    Andrew Johnson was born
    In eighteen hundred and eight
    Lyndon Johnson was born
    In nineteen hundred and eight
    One hundred years apart
    John Wilkes Booth
    The man that shot Lincoln
    Was born in 1839
    Lee Harvey Oswald
    The man that shot Kennedy
    Was born in 1939
    One hundred years apart
    Booth and Oswald were Southerners
    Favoring unpopular ideas
    Booth and Oswald were both
    Assassinated before going to trial
    Both presidents wives
    Lost children through death
    While in the White House
    Both presidents were killed on a Friday
    And in the presence of their wives
    President Lincoln’s secretary
    Whose name was Kennedy
    Advised him not to go to the theater
    President Kennedy’s secretary
    Whose name was Lincoln
    Advised him not to go to Dallas
    John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln
    In a theater and ran to a warehouse
    Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy
    From a warehouse and ran to a theater
    The names Lincoln and Kennedy
    Each contain seven letters
    The names Andrew Johnson
    And Lyndon Johnson each
    Contain thirteen letters
    The names John Wilkes Booth
    And Lee Harvey Oswald
    Each contain fifteen letters
    And friends, it is true
    History does repeat itself
    His truth is marching on

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  5. Margaret! Since you, like me, love true crime so much here are some recommendations. That Chapter is a true-crime channel and honestly one of the best. Then there’s Dark Curiosities, another YT channel. I highly recommend both!

    Also, this documentary about a famous murder in Ireland is one of the best. I am 100% sure you will love it!

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  6. I am interested to know a bit more about the bit where you say “the full moon makes people go nutty”. I’ve heard it from other people as well, but not had the chance to ascertain it myself. Could it be some sort of confirmation bias or placebo effect?

    Sorry to be focusing on a small part of your large post, this just piqued my curiosity.

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    • I don’t think it’s confirmation bias, although it always could be. If you go back through time, the full moon effect has always been referenced. It’s where “looney” comes from, related to “lunar”.

      I am sure it is a logical scientific response, probably something about how the slight extra brightness at night is unexpected and adds stress to brains. I’ve never seen anyone, like, Go Mad because of a full moon. But lots of stuff like couples suddenly having screaming arguments, or someone who is already a bit delusional being extra delusional, just odd. I feel it myself. When I go out and walk the dog late at night and the streets are deserted, sometimes I get this sort of eiry “something’s wrong” feeling, and sure enough, full moon. It’s like the sun is out at night, it just feels off.

      On Mon, Feb 15, 2021 at 2:32 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES SENSE!!! If we look at these selected elements among many others, AND assume that they must be connected in some way.

      On Mon, Feb 15, 2021 at 10:34 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  7. Good perspective, thank you for sharing. I think that, in this day and age, we do tend to jump to conspiracy theories when in reality, the simplest answer is most often the right one. People don’t want to believe that their loved ones committed suicide or had manic episodes that ended in their untimely deaths – but it happens and it happens with more regularity than ghosts and suspicious circumstances. I love a good mystery as much as the next person and I think all avenues deserve to be explored but sometimes tragedy is just…tragedy. Thanks for your post!

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    • Thanks for reading!!!! And yes, suicide and mental illness are often the answer, but also the hardest answer to accept. What I find really interesting is that, in a way, we can end up becoming part of the hallucination. In the Cecil Hotel example, people were sure there was a ghost or a stalker or something because she was hiding and seeming scared. But that was because her brain had created for her a paranoid fantasy. And then the internet and everyone fell into her same fantasy, believed there was something really there instead of it being something created in her mind.

      Liked by 1 person

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