When we're there (often, and on the phone every day), we hear their fears and anguish. The invaders in Mexico have leprosy and smallpox with ISIS members hidden among them. We don't know if the troops will be enough to stop them because they're not allowed to shoot.
Ah. I see. You're still laboring under the belief that your personal conspiracy theories are somehow materially different from the conspiracy theories (and incoherent fears, to be completely fair) of people who believe differently than you. This often gets in the way of understanding the perspectives of those people.
I live in suburban Georgia. Believe me, I understand and have significant exposure to the beliefs of people who lean conservative. My libertarian friends wonder if I'm not some sort of secret, undercover plant given that despite being socially liberal in the classical sense and a staunch atheistic materialist, I'm a strong fiscal conservative and have a weird affinity for understanding conservative thought.
So let's look at the examples of conspiratorial thought you gave.
The odds are extremely good that the organized group of economic migrants running several thousand strong from Central America is largely unvaccinated, and will represent a multi-thousand introduction of unvaccinated, disease carrying individuals into a population which tends to be tightly clustered into urban areas surrounded by large expanses of hostile rural area. Epidemiological study of herd immunity states openly what the results of that are, just as clearly as they state why childhood vaccination is absolutely imperative for maintaining a stable and protected population. Are they likely to have leprosy or smallpox? Probably not. Measles, rubella, and non-local origin influenza? A very high likelihood.
While the details of that fear are incorrect, the basic impulse is fairly well grounded.
ISIS? Certainly not impossible. We've already found a small number of people who have come across the southern border who did not originate in Central or South America on the way through Mexico. Were any of them ISIS agents? No. Not as far as anyone knows. Is it possible? Given the very clear and obvious permeability of Mexico's southern border, it seems like anyone with the inclination could enter the southwestern United States via that mechanism, and surely members of terrorist or mildly hostile intelligence organizations are capable of at least that much. It would be embarrassing if they weren't.
Again, the fears are inaccurate on the specifics but broadly at least positions that intelligent, reasonable people could have concern about.
Now let's take something you said and consider something further.
I think what the data the researchers gathered shows is that political conspiracy theories spread on the right more than they do on the left.
No, what they have shown is that what they consider to be political conspiracy theories spread more on the right than they do on the left. Of course, none of the beliefs that they possess could ever be seen as conspiracy theories. This is the problem with most academic political research of the last several decades; academians have almost zero self-awareness when it comes to observing their own tendencies and beliefs in the social sciences.
Take for example the biggest and most pernicious conspiracy theory of the last two years: the idea that Donald Trump conspired with the Russian oligarchy in the pursuit of political power.
Do you think that's a conspiracy theory? I mean it literally, in every way, definitionally, is exactly a conspiracy theory – and it absolutely has been pushed day in and day out by mainstream media outlets who overwhelmingly support the American Left.
Relatedly, consider the tightly coupled idea that the Russians had some sort of undue influence over the 2016 elections via, apparently, the magical mechanism of buying advertising which was largely indistinguishable from many of the same ideas being pushed by other activists. The stated assumption being that everyone to the right of Che was simply too stupid to recognize clumsy manipulation but the implicit assumption being an incoherent fear that citizens with a Left-leaning bent were too stupid to recognize clumsy manipulation.
Both of those conspiracy theories have been pushed really, really hard by CNN, MSNBC, CBS – you name it. And they are rooted in what we might reasonably say is a grounded concern but completely detached from any sort of understanding of the facts and details of empirical evidence.
I'm not saying that anything is a matter of good versus evil. I've always respected the idea of evil; evil gets things done. These things don't rise to the level of that. They're just people being people.
That's why when sites start publishing fake news for profit, they experiment with stories on the left and the right, but they inevitably go right because it's where they can get the views and resulting ad dollars. And my poor family suffers.
And this is where you go completely off the rails.
All news outlets publish fake news for profit. They always have. Good journalists in the past often tried to stay away from it and there was, for quite a while, a preference for reporting just the facts and trusting the audience to make their own decision about them. Or at least appearing to do that.
That's not the case anymore. At a certain point the industry of journalism stopped trusting that the audience would make decisions journalists wanted them to make. That didn't require conspiracy, there was no great meeting of editors who decided "we are all going to lean Left and we're all going to write the same kinds of stories," it just so happened that publishing entities started hiring people who graduated from college with journalism degrees instead of people with expertise in something interesting who then learned to journal. As a result, more and more people who could graduate from college with a journalism degree when it a journalism degree – and they tended to be upper-middle-class with aspirations, highly Left-inclined, self-righteous, opinionated, and increasingly detached from the processes and experiences of day-to-day life for most of their fellow citizens.
Fox News just happened to come along at a really good time to disrupt the process that was already long underway by co-opting the methods and means of presentation already present in broadcasting but subverting a basic assumption about the audience. It was, interestingly enough, a very progressive idea – that there was an underserved part of the market (that just happened to lean conservative), that market had money, and they would enjoy and indulge the same sorts of things that their Left-leaning compatriots were profiting from. In the early days, they made at least a token effort to come across as more balanced than their competitors, particularly CNN, but it has been many years since that was the case.
So if Harvard social scientists perceive a preponderance of conspiracy theories on the right, there are multiple reasons that may be the case and they are still wrong. Left-leaning conspiracy theories are promulgated as reality and those social scientists subscribe to those beliefs, so they don't think of them as conspiracy theories. Right-leaning conspiracy theories stand out more from the background by being targeted at what is still an underserved social group. They get views and ad dollars because someone believes, possibly rightly, that someone else wants to read them.
Your family is not suffering. Your family is making what they think of as reasonable choices given a vast multitude and myriad of conflicting inputs, specific and local cultural influences, and the detritus of 50 years of an educational system heavily dominated by progressive educational theory and union dominance – which has been largely observed to be wrong.
It's a bit infantilizing of you to say "your poor family suffers." It's as if you don't think they are capable of making reasonable decisions for themselves. You can disagree with the decisions that they make for themselves perfectly reasonably, but disagreement is no basis for thinking they are making decisions on any less reasonable basis than you are.
Believe me, this is a difficult position for me to maintain considering how I feel about the toxin that is religion and how it is a destructive, self-defeating, irrational structure of thought – but I don't think of my neighbors as "my poor neighbors suffering under religion," I think of them as having made poor decisions that I disagree with.
Having said that, I'm well aware that both the far left and far right seem to believe the vaccination conspiracies equally and the vector for its spread appears to be social media, not TV. No?
I'm not sure that the vector for conspiracy theory can be laid at the feet of social media, either. It's very tempting for people involved in the industry to want to suggest that any significant social action is the result of that industry, just as it is for people in any form of publication or broadcasting to believe that their industry is the root of all social movements, good or bad.
The truth is that even in the absence of TV, newspaper, social social media, and even books – conspiracy theories have flourished. Before mass media in any form, conspiracy theories flourished. People like legends. People like to simplify the complex nature of reality. They like things that can be told to one another as stories in order to communicate something about the world.
It's ultimately just people being people.
If there's anything that media is responsible for over the last 50 years, it's the spreading belief that individuals are less trustworthy than groups. That has been a consistent message on all fronts, and it's led to a global populace who have begun taking the idea seriously. It becomes ever more thinkable that some "group" is responsible for almost every evil they can imagine – and that's the root of three quarters of the conspiracy theories in play.