Have you heard the latest viral conspiracy theory? Birds aren’t real, and the animals are actually drones sent from the government to spy on you.
The theory admits birds were real animals, but US officials “forcibly made the entire species extinct in the 20th century,” according to the movement’s website, and “all of these real birds were replaced with surveillance drones.”
Except the Birds Aren’t Real movement is different from other conspiracy theories. Though more than 1 million followers have backed the movement, according to “60 Minutes,” they know it’s a joke aimed at the spread of misinformation.
Here’s what you need to know about the Birds Aren’t Real movement:
How did Birds Aren’t Real start?
The conspiracy theory powered by Gen Z was started by a man named Peter McIndoe. I have told The New York Times last year the movement began at a women’s march in Memphis, Tennessee, in January 2017. Counterprotesters supporting former President Donald Trump also attended the event, and when McIndoe saw the group he wrote “Birds Aren’t Real” on a poster as a joke .
“It was a spontaneous joke, but it was a reflection of the absurdity everyone was feeling,” he told the Times.
He continued to joke about the idea of the conspiracy at the rally, and a video of him went viral on Facebook. The claim spread among teenagers in the area, and McIndoe told the outlet that he and a friend, Connor Gaydos, wrote a fake history of the conspiracy, coming up with more jokes and fake details.
“It basically became an experiment in misinformation,” McIndoe said. “We were able to construct an entirely fictional world that was reported on as fact by local media and questioned by members of the public.”
USA TODAY has reached out to the Birds Aren’t Real organization for comment.
Where has the Birds Aren’t Real theory spread?
The Birds Aren’t Real theory has since spread far beyond Memphis. The movement has an activism network known as the Bird Brigade which runs chapters and organizes in their areas, according to its satirical site.
“I remember seeing videos of people chanting: ‘Birds aren’t real,’ at high school football games; and seeing graffiti of ‘Birds aren’t real,’” McIndoe told the Guardian. “At first, I thought: ‘This is crazy,’ but then I wondered: ‘What is making this resonate with people?’”
Though the movement has held rallies across the country and other in-person stunts, Birds Aren’t Real is quintessentially an online joke.
Its official TikTok account has more than 850,000 followers, and its hashtag on the popular video platform has more than 350 million views. The movement’s Instagram has nearly 400,000 followers, and its official Twitter account has nearly 100,000.
So Birds Aren’t Real is just a joke?
Yes, but its leaders also say it mocks the quick spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories, especially online.
For example, Birds Aren’t Real has gone viral in the same era as the QAnon conspiracy theory. QAnon falsely claims there is a satanic “deep state” supporting a child sex-trafficking ring.
“Birds Aren’t Real is not a shallow satire of conspiracies from the outside. It is from the deep inside,” McIndoe told the Times “A lot of people in our generation feel the lunacy in all this, and Birds Aren’t Real has been a way for people to process that.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism