There are two things that political conspiracy e-mail forwards have in common: Conservatives and senior citizens. The viral e-mail rumor mill phenomenon is dominated by the right, as The Washington Post's Paul Fahri points out. "When it comes to generating and sustaining specious and shocking stories, there’s no contest. The majority of the junk comes from the right, aimed at the left," he notes. Fahri gives various reasons for why the GOP has cornered this salacious "grass roots whisper campaigns" market. But we think it has more to do with the type of people that send around chain e-mails (old people) than party affiliation.
Theoretically, conservatives dominate this practice because they are better at things like this. Political communications theorist Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggests to Fahri that the right is generally quicker to adopt technology, like direct-mail fundraising to sophisticated polling. But when it comes to the Internet, the GOP actually isn't more tech-savvy than the Dems. Many attribute Obama's successes to his social media savvy campaign. And Republicans are just catching up to the Democrats on Twitter, while Obama ventures into even hipper tech spaces. That suggests that the left should too have a handle on these e-mail campaigns.
Another, sounder theory from Ari Fleisher, who served as Bush's secretary, suggests that conservatives tend to distrust the mainstream media, and would thus take to e-mail chains to correct for the media's liberal biases. A September Gallup poll confirms Fleisher's idea. A higher percentage of Republicans and a higher percentage of conservatives found the media "too liberal" than Democrats and liberals found it "too conservative."
But this doesn't explain why Conservatives have taken to e-mail chains in particular, which is where a third theory comes in that Fahri did not explore. This is an old person thing. "I mean yes conservatives are more voracious bullshit consumers," tweeted Salon's Alex Pareene. "But this is also just cuz only old people forward emails." At least from personal experience, Grandma sends exponentially more GIF-y Israel FWDs than any peer. And conservatives usually have the old people vote. So it adds up. A lot of these boggling Republican trends are actually about demographics, as Politico's Ben Smith points out. "There's a genre of conservatives do X stories that are actually about age. See also, AOL email accounts. And arguably, views on gay rights."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.