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Taylor Swift online conspiracy theories drown out sane thinking

(Marit Nair/YJI)

SEATTLE – After Sunday’s Super Bowl, conservatives are convinced that Taylor Swift “did something bad.” 

The last year has been filled with back-to-back successes for the pop artist. From the launch of her long awaited Eras Tour – which became the highest grossing music tour ever – to the re-recordings of her fan-favorite albums Speak Now and 1989 to becoming the first artist to win four Album of the Year awards at the Grammys earlier this month, Swift has even further cemented herself as a pop culture icon. 

But as Swift’s popularity hits an all-time high, so has public skepticism – and not just about the merit of her music. A growing number of internet conservatives believe that Swift is engaging in a governmental psychological operation, or psyop. 

The theory’s proponents allege that Swift and her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, are in a fabricated relationship used to generate public attention, which will then be directed towards the promotion of President Biden for reelection. 

After circulating among conservative media personalities and politicians online, the conspiracy came to a head on Sunday, after several fans claimed that the NFL rigged the Super Bowl in the Chiefs favor as additional leverage for Swift and Kelce’s scheme.

The supposed evidence to support the conspiracy isn’t really evidence at all: while Swift did endorse Biden as a presidential candidate in 2020 and Kelce recently appeared in commercials in support of Pfizer’s flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, none of this comes close to suggesting a governmentally manufactured romance. 

Yet, despite being solely based in speculation, the theory has an alarming number of defenders, especially among right-wing extremists and Trump supporters. 

Thousands of users have accused the NFL of foul play on social media, including Vivek Ramaswamy who recently suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. President. He referred to Swift and Kelce as an “artificially culturally propped-up couple” on X. 

The ability for a seemingly far-fetched belief to become so deeply ingrained within the minds of voters is yet another example of the reality of holding elections in the digital age. An increasing amount of social media content is baseless opinion presented as fact, leaving engagement-based algorithms to lead users down an emotionally charged political spiral that lacks much independent or critical thought. 

The notion that the leaders of our country are being chosen by a public whose opinions have been formed by little more than a few clicks, 10-second videos, and a hastily written comment on Instagram is perhaps extreme, but is looking more like reality by the day.

It’s worth noting, though, how the loudness of social media content surrounding the Swift and Kelce kerfuffle is oftentimes wrongly conflated with the quantity of the theory’s supporters, especially in online spaces. 

Online, controversial opinions that rake in views and comments are spread to larger audiences, oftentimes making them seem more popular than they are. After all, content from those debunking conspiracies represents a more commonplace viewpoint and is interpreted as reasonable – and therefore not worthy of the internet spotlight.

But on Thursday, the results of a poll conducted by Monmouth University found that one out of five Americans believe that Swift is involved in a “covert effort to help Biden win the 2024 presidential election.” 

Although there is debate on the poll’s accuracy due to surveyees who are predisposed to Trump and conspiracy theories in general, the data begins to challenge the notion that the theory was simply subject to Internet inflation.

In the midst of the heated speculation and attempts to accurately quantify the absurd sentiment, the theory did get one thing right: it acknowledges the power that celebrities, pop culture, and the internet have on voters. 

Swift isn’t just the pop star behind the passionate breakup songs and glitzy concerts. She’s a role model and inspiration to many, whose outspoken encouragement on social media to register to vote has shown astounding concrete results. 

Conservatives fear Swift and Kelce gaining popularity because they understand the motivational effect they can have on their fans. 

So while the current conspiracy exemplifies how fame can lead to baseless political speculation that benefits no one, it opens up the door for the opposite: using public prominence to promote effective civic engagement.

Swift and Kelce’s situation should not be a deterrent for other figures of prominence to express their political views or encourage their fans to vote. 

With celebrity comes great power – a force that should not, and cannot, be threatened by unfounded absurdity.

Jasmine Zhen is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this commentary.

Marit Nair is a Junior Reporter and Illustrator with Youth Journalism International. She made the illustration.

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