Conspiracy theories have always followed in the shadows of major tragedies, but the web seems to make all that detective work so much easier.
You have forums like Reddit's /r/conspiracy. Unabashedly unhinged "news" sites, like Infowars and Before Its News. And Friday morning, less than 24 hours after MH17 went down in Eastern Ukraine, all of them were frothing with alternative explanations for the crash.
Needless to say, these explanations rarely make any sense; conspiracy theories, particularly the viral Internet variety, are generally a cobbled patchwork of paranoia, wild speculation and overconfident amateur "sleuthing." (Think the photos that circled Reddit after the Boston Marathon bombings, with their colour-coded circles and cherry-picked "smoking guns.")
That said, it would be foolish to dismiss these theories out of hand, if only because so many people believe them.
Research has indicated not only that conspiracy theories are a response to powerlessness, but that perfectly logical and otherwise normal people frequently buy in - as many as half of American adults, according to a recent study from the University of Chicago.
That doesn't make the MH17 theories any more realistic, or, in some case, any less offensive. But it does make them worth considering. After all, these are more than wacky fringe drivel - they are, in some ways, an expression of grief. (Worse, they're things you might find yourself arguing with family members six months from now.)
1. A world power shot the plane down to start World War III.
Theories diverge as to whether said power was Russia, the US, Israel or some other Western country, but they all agree as to motive: The downed plane is, theorists claim, the perfect excuse for either NATO to invade Russia, or Russia to invade Ukraine.
"We can clearly see an attempted false flag to launch WW3 unfolding," the "alternative" news site Before Its News said. Enthused Redditors also pointed to a Russian tweet sent on June 17, which appeared to predict a civilian plane crash and a consequent NATO invasion.
As far as fringe theories go, this one isn't all that wacky: It at least admits the plane was shot down. But attacking a civilian plane is a war crime, not to mention a great way to alienate the entire international community - which makes it somewhat less than strategic.
2. A major world power shot the plane down to distract from Gaza/the border crisis/the "World Currency Reset"/the next Snowden release/fill-in-the-blank.
"The media is in a frenzy today," warned one /r/conspiracy commenter, echoing many others. "We must remember one thing, when they have a lot of things to show you, it means there is something they don't want you to look at."
Popular contenders for things we, the dreaded "MSM," do not want you to see include Israel's incursion into Gaza and the ongoing illegal immigration crisis at the US-Mexico border. Oddly, both topics feature prominently on both front pages and homepages - so if MH17 was a distraction, it didn't really work.
3. A major world power shot the plane down to cover up the man-made origins of HIV/AIDS.
The news that a number of prominent HIV/AIDS workers were on the plane prompted some isolated speculation that the attack involved their research in some way - perhaps as a cover-up for AIDS' "man-made origins," another popular theory among the tin-hat set.
One Redditor pointed out that, 16 years ago, AIDS-patient advocate and World Health official Jonathan Mann also died in a plane crash that conspiracists find suspect. (A four-year, multi-million-dollar investigation into that crash concluded that it was caused by an electrical fire, and fed by flammable materials in the plane.)
4. Ukraine shot the plane down to kill Vladimir Putin.
This rumour actually originated with Russia's state-run Interfax news agency before seeping into the US. Per Interfax, Putin's presidential jet flew the same route as MH17 at almost the same time, and his aircraft was the same size and colouring as the downed plane - leading some to speculate that the crash was an assassination attempt gone very wrong. ("This was a deliberate attempt to shoot down the Russian presidential plane carrying Vladimir Putin one his way from the Latin American visit," wrote blogger Lada Rey, in all-caps.)
But as Russia's RT, another state-run news outlet, debunked shortly thereafter, Putin's plane has not flown over Ukraine since the start of conflict there, and he certainly wasn't flying that flight path Thursday. At the time, Putin was returning to Moscow from Brazil.
5. The plane was not shot down at all.
In a variation of the World War III theory, popular YouTube conspiracy vlogger DAHBOO77 - who specialises in speculative "bombshells!" on everything from Pope Francis to TB - has claimed the plane was intentionally diverted into east Ukraine, where it was then intentionally crashed or blown up by on-board explosives. According to this theory, Ukraine (or Russia, or the US, or anybody else), could then "claim" the aircraft was shot down and use it as an excuse for an invasion.
Dahboo's primary evidence for this is a series of dashcam videos that show MH17 exploding on the ground, not in the air. ("How many movies, how many cartoons have you watched and seen a plane go down?" he demands, apparently assuming that cartoon plane-crashes always follow the laws of physics.) Aviation experts actually say the plane would explode on the ground if the missile hit it at any point besides the fuselage.
6. In fact, the plane never even took off!
A barely coherent post on the popular "awareness blog" Nesara News claims MH17 was cancelled because the radar site FlightRadar24.com lists it that way. (Flight Radar refers, of course, to the fact that it never landed - not that it never left.) Nesara, unfortunately, is still "trying to figure" out what airplane the photos actually depict, if not MH17. But he and several others have one tentative theory ...
7. MH17 is actually MH 370.
After all, they're both Boeing 777s - and the plane that disappeared in March still hasn't been found! "Yes the plane was boarded in Amsterdam," reads one post on the forum Above Top Secret. "This does not prove the case that it must be the MH17. It could be the MH370 rigged with explosives." According to that particular strain of the MH370 theory, the disappeared plane was planted to start World War III.
But Illuminati Watcher has an ever better idea: Maybe MH370 was swallowed by aliens/a space vortex and just now spit out over Ukraine. (As the watcher himself points out, this conveniently mirrors the plot of a short-lived TV show called "The Event.") For the record, every available piece of evidence suggests that MH 370 is in a million pieces on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
8. The Illuminati did it.
This one's a bit of a given: Rarely does a tragedy or TV awards show pass without somebody claiming the Illuminati's involved. Illuminati-watchers had a lot of material with this one, too: MH17 was a Boeing 777, it allegedly first flew on 7/17/97, and it was in service for 17 years. All of those numbers are significant to the Illuminati, the mysterious, occult group hellbent on achieving global domination, per the people who believe in these things. To further compound the issue, Illuminati-watchers were already aflutter over "occult messaging" in a recent speech by IMF head Christine Legarde and a 2013 performance by ... rapper Kendrick Lamar. Insists The Conspiracy Zone - a site that also argues Beyonce is an agent of the devil - "this is obviously another Illuminati false flag event to bring in the Antichrist and New World Order."
It's human nature to seek answers, of course - particularly when none are forthcoming. Suffice it to say, though, that these ones probably are not it.
- Sydney Morning Herald