What’s Behind the ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ Protests?

It's not your everyday fake news, explains the New York Times. (Alternate URLs here.) In Pittsburgh; Memphis, Tennessee; and Los Angeles, massive billboards recently popped up declaring, "Birds Aren't Real." On Instagram and TikTok, Birds Aren't Real accounts have racked up hundreds of thousands of followers, and YouTube videos about it have gone viral. Last month, Birds Aren't Real adherents even protested outside Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco to demand that the company change its bird logo. The events were all connected by a Gen Z-fueled conspiracy theory, which posits that birds do not exist and are really drone replicas installed by the U.S. government to spy on Americans. Hundreds of thousands of young people have joined the movement, wearing Birds Aren't Real T-shirts, swarming rallies and spreading the slogan. It might smack of QAnon, the conspiracy theory that the world is controlled by an elite cabal of child-trafficking Democrats. Except that the creator of Birds Aren't Real and the movement's followers are in on a joke: They know that birds are, in fact, real and that their theory is made up. What Birds Aren't Real truly is, they say, is a parody social movement with a purpose. In a post-truth world dominated by online conspiracy theories, young people have coalesced around the effort to thumb their nose at, fight and poke fun at misinformation. It is Gen Z's attempt to upend the rabbit hole with absurdism... Most Birds Aren't Real members, many of whom are part of an on-the-ground activism network called the Bird Brigade, grew up in a world overrun with misinformation. Some have relatives who have fallen victim to conspiracy theories. So for members of Gen Z, the movement has become a way to collectively grapple with those experiences. By cosplaying conspiracy theorists, they have found community and kinship [according to 23-year-old Peter McIndoe, who created Birds Aren't Real on a whim in 2017...] Cameron Kasky, 21, an activist from Parkland, Florida, who helped organize the March for Our Lives student protest against gun violence in 2018 and is involved in Birds Aren't Real, said the parody "makes you stop for a second and laugh. In a uniquely bleak time to come of age, it doesn't hurt to have something to laugh about together." McIndoe began selling Birds Aren't Real merchandise in 2018, according to the article, and now brings in "several thousand dollars a month" with some help from his friend Connor Gaydos. "If anyone believes birds aren't real," Gaydos tells the Times, "we're the last of their concerns, because then there's probably no conspiracy they don't believe."

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