The internet is a pretty bland place if you don’t lurk on it beyond stalking your exes and watching beauty and makeup YouTuber fights. And if you’re one of those, you’re missing out on so much. For starters, the part of it that believes in conspiracies is a gold-mine—with flat earthers and climate change deniers and people who believe Mark Zuckerberg is actually a lizard-cyborg (not that far-reaching, actually). But if you love wild conspiracies, wait till you see this: it's got a gripping story, incredibly-believable theories, and a dedicated club of followers.
There exists a meta conspiracy movement, set to out-conspire all other conspiracies. Birds Aren’t Real is the parody movement that claims that the U.S. Government genocided birds from 1959-2001 by releasing a virus to kill them off. Now, the movement says, the birds have been replaced with surveillance drone replicas that watch us every day. In their estimate, the government killed over 12 billion birds and replaced them with robotic replicas. The (fictional?!) history of the movement is that it started in the 1970s to make everyone aware of this atrocity and prevent the mass killing of the birds. Unfortunately, they were not successful. Now, they intend to make everyone aware of this fact.
The movement is so well crafted that it feels like a joke on ourselves that’s arisen to manifest and claim its position in our absurd reality. The most ingenious part about it is perhaps how close to reality it is. With new reports talking about increased surveillance by governments every couple of weeks, their claim definitely makes you laugh but of the awkward kind, knowing how it’s subverting its very existence.
This “movement” is spread across social media platforms and even has its line of merch. It relies on internet-fuelled marketing, replicating conspiracy theory propaganda to spread its message. It exists in real-world posters and billboards, and super in-character videos made to make the entire thing look very believable to a gullible eye, almost making even the staunchest sceptic wonder if the world really might've changed while they weren't looking. If the earth could be shaped like a donut, Meghan Markle could be a robot, and 5G phone towers could spread coronavirus, why can’t birds very well be unreal?
The website claims the CIA took out 12 billion feathered fugitives because directors within the organisation were annoyed that birds had been… pooping. So, to literally kill two birds with one stone, they decided to eliminate all birds—solving the problem of feces and creating surveillance drones. The only man alive who lived to tell the tale was an “agent” who was abandoned by fellow agents in a bathroom because “he was peeing too much”.
If you haven’t yet figured out, the world-building of this campaign is insane. They have an answer to practically all questions "anti-truthers" might have. They explain the existence of “eggs” as government-created replicas; “bird poop”, which was thought to be oil discharge in earlier models but is now understood to be a liquidated tracking device. They also assert that bird drones can have multiple applications. For example, vultures are not surveillance drones; they are actually used for public sanitation. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, are actually assassination drones.
They also offer advice, after scaring their readers with the possibility of being watched 24/7: “Establishing dominance—look the bird straight in the eyes and declare the following statement confidently ‘I know your secret. I know that you are a surveillance drone in disguise.’”
And seems like their work has paid off. The attention Birds Aren’t Real has drawn on social media is incredible. They have an Instagram following of 266k, a Twitter following of 60k, and a subreddit that has more than 320k members.
And out of all of these spaces, the subreddit has emerged to be a true community, in ways other platforms can’t. While the subreddit is obviously affiliated to the movement at large, it also has its own share of independent followers. And it’s an absolute delight to be in, even as a silent observer. The posts on the group are just pictures of birds. with just ridiculous captions with even more ridiculous comments. And what’s even more meta is that no one on the sub breaks character when the satire is pointed out.
This subreddit has also managed to inspire other such subs such as r/Giraffesdontexist or their counterpart subreddit r/GiraffesTotallyExist . “Seeing these breakoff communities makes me step back and look at what’s come of the movement,” says one of the moderators of the subreddit, Patrick McManus, to VICE. He started moderating the subreddit two years ago. “As for the future, I have absolutely no idea. If I could predict social media trends there’s no way I’d be doing this for free.”
The credit goes to Peter McIndoe, a student in his 20s from Tenneesse who created this entire movement supported by what he calls the “bird brigade”. He refuses to take the acknowledgement though, calling himself a mere messenger of the superior overlords. He, too, defends the movement’s legitimacy in interviews, while firmly staying in character and promoting what Birds Aren’t Real isn’t. “The thought that this could be used to make a satire of a dark and tense time in American culture—I find those things to be baloney,” said McIndoe in 2018.
But, a closer look tells us that is exactly what the movement is: a ridiculous satire that is a commentary on conspiracy culture and fake news. It takes advantage of the meme-ification of all other conspiracy theories that are out there and essentially creates something that beats them at their own game. It is also a satire on the internet's woke culture. The way they talk about things makes it appear as if the audience isn’t woke or informed enough, which has to be what the nightmares of internet crusaders comprise of. And so, it further incites people into invariably either believing them or wanting to be in on the joke.
Most of all, this is a sardonic reflection of the intensity with which governments worldwide have increased surveillance and policing of people. “While I can’t talk for the entire movement, I will say that we are an organization based around resisting government tyranny, and that includes surveillance,” adds McManus. “We also strongly oppose infringement upon free speech and the censorship of media”
Watching a genuine flat-earther in their element is both hilarious and a little scary. People believe in conspiracy theories because they aim to understand and control a narrative. But as much as people want to believe in conspiracies, they want to make fun of people who believe in conspiracies, more. In creating a movement that has such blurred lines between satire and actual belief, it caters to both sides of the internet.
The best thing about it, though, is that no matter why you are lurking around the movement, the community is definitely going to be a safe space for you to indulge in your guilty pleasures. But please make sure you remain in character as well, so as to not offend the bird brigade. When we prodded McManus to just admit how this is not a conspiracy theory as much as a joke on conspiracy theories, he seemed offended. “Of course birds aren’t real, what a silly question,” he replied. You might not believe him but remember that while it might be easy to dismiss the idea that birds aren’t real, you know the spying is very, very real.
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