Astroworld: How Fake “Satanic Panic” Conspiracies Hijack Mindless Tragedy


The Astroworld tragedy has sparked a torrent of conspiracy theories across social media platforms, from the false claim that Travis Scott’s management firm deliberately planned the event with multiple casualties, to a bizarre anti-theory theory. vax.

The most popular of these plots is that the tragic deaths of eight young people at NRG Park last Friday was a satanic ritual, with TikTok clips promoting the claim collectively racking up tens of millions of views.

Disinformation experts say Mr. Scott’s connection to “demonic spirits” has its roots in the tropes of popular culture, America’s complex history with race, and the growing inability of young people to discern between them. facts of fiction.

The first TikTok clips suggesting Mr. Scott was indulging in a “ritual sacrifice” appeared hours after news of the tragedy last Friday night.

Typical of these viral TikToks is the one that says the concert scene was “an inverted cross leading to a portal to hell,” which has been viewed a million times.

According to Joseph Russo, who teaches a course in the anthropology of conspiracy theories at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the “satanic panic” trope gained prominence in the 1960s when the Beatles were accused of trying. to influence American youth through subliminal messages on their recordings.

“We have a tradition of connecting figures from popular culture to some sort of dark secret society,” Mr. Russo said.

In the ’80s and’ 90s, many rap and hip-hop pioneers embraced conspiracy theories and featured them in their lyrics, Mr Russo said.

References to the 1991 book Here is a pale horse by William Cooper, a bible for modern conspirators, has been referenced by musicians such as Tupac Shakur, Public Enemy, and Busta Rhymes.

Mr Russo said it made sense for African-American artists to seek “alternative narratives,” given their experiences with oppression and racism.

The scene has been compared to an inverted cross by online conspiracy theorists


“Black history in America is a very tragic story, a very violent story. (Conspiracy theories) have some sort of rational basis.

Mr Russo sees parallels between the Astroworld controversy unfolding on social media and the QAnon movement, whose supporters see Donald Trump as a messianic figure who was sent to arrest a cabal of celebrity pedophiles and Democrats.

“Any major event of crisis or senseless tragedy is immediately incorporated into the current history of conspiracy theory which I consider to be very much related to QAnon,” he said, citing the Las Vegas massacre in 2017, which is now part of QAnon folklore.

“A lot of it comes down to white anxiety, and Trump has exploited that with great success. “

Since the advent of social media, platforms like Facebook have been used to spread disinformation faster and to a much larger audience than ever before.

Lawsuits begin to pile up against Travis Scott, the organizers of Astroworld

This habit of sharing memes on Facebook has found a new audience among the Gen-Zers on TikTok.

“It’s the same content with a new form,” Mr. Russo said.

Much of the TikTok hysteria centered around the stage layout and opening of Scott’s concert which featured a hologram of a flying bat-like object surrounded by eight large firing flames.

“This is pure evil,” one commentator wrote on a video, which drew 77,000 likes. Commentators claimed that the eight flames referred to the eight deaths.

Mr Russo said it seemed the set designers were deliberately trying to create a “somewhat demonic aesthetic”.

Festival-goers entered the arena through a catwalk shaped like Scott’s mouth, with many comparing it to the 1575 painting Christ in Limbo by a follower of Dutch artist Hieronymous Bosch.

“It’s not crazy to think that the design team really has their finger on the pulse of culture, how people are going to talk about it and how people are going to show it on TikTok,” he said.

Yotam Ophir, assistant professor in the Media Effects, Misinformation, & Extremism Lab at the University of Buffalo, said conspiracy theories often had a devastating impact on grieving families.

“Here, for example, parents who have lost their loved ones should now also fight against malicious claims that their children were not just bystanders but satanic worshipers.”

He compared the Astroworld plots to the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, when grieving parents were “harassed by Alex Jones and other conspiracy theory figures, and had to deal with both to the loss of their children and to the constant harassment online and in real life. “

Travis Scott in concert at Astroworld


They were often deliberately used to distract from real world issues with false narratives.

“We tend to believe that very dramatic events must be the result of very dramatic circumstances, for example a plot to turn a concert into a satanic ritual as part of an eternal war between good and evil.”

Dr Ophir said the conspiratorial content was designed to spread quickly on social media. Platforms could not be relied on to rule the issue, so stricter regulation was needed.

“Instead of hoping that social media conglomerates like Facebook and YouTube will clean up the disinformation and stop the spread, we need to take action to educate people about the extremely complicated and saturated information environment, and to regulate social media, as we’ve done with just about every media company before.

“We must build a sustainable legal system to combat disinformation and its devastating impact on individuals and societies. “

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