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Moderator Lara Logan directs questions during a conference on conspiracy theories about voting machines and discredited claims about the 2020 presidential election at a hotel in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Sept. 10.Jim Rassol/The Associated Press

Once upon a time, Lara Logan was a leading figure in American journalism. Now, she’s a cautionary tale.

The South African rose to prominence as a war correspondent for CBS. Her coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq earned her a regular gig on the iconic TV news magazine, 60 Minutes. A sexual assault she suffered while covering events in Egypt during the Arab Spring uprising garnered worldwide headlines, as well as worldwide empathy. But after an error-filled report she filed for CBS in 2013 on Barack Obama’s response to the infamous attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, she left the network in 2018.

That’s when she reinvented herself as a right-wing pundit, joining the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Fox Nation, and appearing on the arch-conservative channel Newsmax. But then, she began to share conspiracy theories espoused by the QAnon cult, which eventually became too reprehensible for these networks. In one Newsmax appearance, she claimed that having an “open border [with Mexico] is Satan’s way of taking control of the world,” and that world leaders drink the blood of children. Newsmax, which often offers a platform to the most bizarre notions of the day, banned her.

Ms. Logan is not the only celebrity who has surprised us with leaps into the netherworld of dark conspiracy and outright suspicion of authority figures, though. We have them here in Canada, as well.

Jamie Salé won a pairs figure-skating gold medal with her partner and husband-to-be, David Pelletier, at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Born in Calgary and raised in Red Deer, Ms. Salé won Canadian hearts as a petite, forever-smiling ball of energy who embodied a Prairie wholesomeness.

But Ms. Salé has changed. She would eventually divorce Mr. Pelletier and marry the former NHL player Craig Simpson, with whom she separated last year. She has emerged as an ardent anti-vaxxer who has said putting a mask on a child is “child abuse.” Her Twitter feed is an endless flow of dubious claims from dubious sources. She happily goes down rabbit holes to share falsehoods about the World Economic Forum and the “Great Reset,” which conspiracists claim is an effort by the global elite to dismantle capitalism and impose radical change on the world. She posted a tweet recently in which she suggested that Halloween was part of a “satanic agenda,” and suggested the day amounted to “crimes against children.”

Ms. Salé, along with ex-NHL star Theo Fleury, now front an organization called Canadians for Truth, which holds travelling road shows for those interested in standing up “for truth, freedom and justice for all.”

Other prominent people with significant platforms have also recently succumbed to the pull of conspiracies, including NBA superstar Kyrie Irving and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

So what is happening? Are heretofore “normal” folks finding themselves suddenly vulnerable to conspiracism? Did Donald Trump, who propagated lies about Mr. Obama’s birth and the legitimacy of the 2020 election, give permission to millions of Americans to buy into bogus stories and beliefs? Did the COVID-19 pandemic only make things worse?

A 2021 poll suggested that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe conspiracy theories are “out of control.” The internet, with its ability to instantly spread and amplify falsehoods in conspiracy-curious echo chambers, seems at least partly responsible for what some have called the “post-truth era.”

Conspiracy theories, of course, have been around forever, and the United States has long been a breeding ground for them. Several have centred around the notion of alien life; anyone of a certain age will have heard that the U.S. government is keeping the bodies of aliens captured years ago in a secure facility in an Nevada desert somewhere. Theories about who shot John F. Kennedy continue to persist.

But a study, published in July in the PLOS One scientific journal, indicates that there is no evidence of some great spike in conspiracy theories. Rather, the data shows that a majority of conspiracy theories tend to lose believers over time, not increase their numbers.

This is not an area, however, that has been heavily researched. It deserves to get more scrutiny in the years ahead. The study’s authors say the levels of conspiracism they observed remain “concerning,” but it is encouraging, at least, that the situation may not be as hopeless as it may feel.

It does seem like there are more people inclined these days to give hoaxes a hearing, at the very least – and when promoted by high-profile, formerly trustworthy sources like Ms. Logan, they can have a destabilizing effect on society.

We need to avoid a situation in which every official story by authorities is viewed as The Big Lie. If that happens, we’re all in trouble.