Birds Aren’t Real, or Are They? Inside a Gen Z Conspiracy Theory

Peter McIndoe, the 23-year-old creator of the Birds Aren’t Real movement, with his van in Fayetteville, Ark., on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. 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. (Rana Young/The New York Times) (RANA YOUNG / NYT)

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.

A photo provided by Madeline Huston shows Peter McIndoe, the 23-year-old creator of the Birds Aren’t Real movement, burning a Cardinals flag in St. Louis during a satirical protest of the baseball team’s logo in July 2021. 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. (Madeline Houston via The New York Times) — NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY SLUGGED BIRD CONSPIRACY BY TAYLOR LORENZ FOR DEC. 9, 2021. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. — (MADELINE HOUSTON / NYT)

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.

Source: The Seattle Times