There are two equally dangerous reactions to conspiracy theories: 1. Ceasing to even consider the arguments behind an idea the moment the conspiracy label is applied and 2. the tendency to believe all of them are likely true once the evidence for one becomes overwhelming. A conspiracy theory is, after all, merely a theory that two or more people conspired for a purpose. People do that all the time. To call something a conspiracy theory should not carry with it negative connotations.
It comes down to which type of conspiracy you are first introduced to, I suppose. If you are first introduced to a conspiracy theory that, after probing deeply, either is proven false or seems to be false, you will afterwards tend to dismiss whatever conspiracy you come across. You will have been inoculated.
Similarly, if you are introduced to a conspiracy theory that seems to hold true after extended investigation, you will be tempted to believe whatever conspiracy theory that is floated about must have some validity. You will have become infected.
The appeal of both is to our intellectual laziness. It is being exacerbated by the information overload that is unavoidable in this age. We are overwhelmed by both theories and propaganda from official sources, and we are left to ourselves to decide which side we tend to believe. And with the endless amount of leads to follow, it is not only convenient but necessary to dismiss facts in bulk, to cling to a mindset, opinion, or group of authorities in order to avoid ambiguity and the pain of not knowing.
The answer to this problem is in letting go of a need to have a definite opinion. Between yes and no, we can add the option of “I don’t know.” Egoically, this is an unsatisfactory answer. But ego has never been our friend.
Just think of what a boon to our society it would be for people to say “I don’t know” when engaging in an argument. True, too often “I don’t know” has been followed up with “and I don’t care”. This is a third form of intellectual laziness, I suppose. But more often failing to engage in debate stems not from disinterest so much as the idea that a debate must have a winner. That’s where “I don’t know” comes in handy. “I don’t know” is you admitting you don’t have the answers, and therefore don’t feel the need to win an argument.
People often say they don’t like social media because of all the arguments. That is precisely why I enjoy social media, so that I might argue with others, many of whom I do not know. It really is an unprecedented tool for communication and education. And despite the missteps many have taken in figuring out the unwritten rules of online communication, I truly believe humans are working their way towards understanding how communication with family/friends/strangers can work. We merely have to let go of rigid opinions in order to allow more facts to help us form a more sophisticated view of things.
In short, we should not hold rigid opinions so much as theories. Theories can be modified whenever new knowledge is introduced, whereas rigid opinions necessitate the molding of new knowledge to conform to biases. The braver course is always in laying out the information you possess and offering it to others. The smarter course is in listening to valid criticism and defending your position when it is legitimate, admitting flaws and incorporating new information when it is not. Not only will you convert more people to your position with this approach, you will make those around you more accepting of spirited debate. And I'm firmly convinced the world will be made better by the collective mind than by a few know-it-alls.