Audience & Perspectives
It's not always easy to identify audiences for misinformation or to understand what motivates them to believe misinformation when it arises. A recent article in Scientific American explained that cognitive biases often exist to help us not feel overwhelmed by information or ideas.
In the California wildfire situation, people might feel fearful or overwhelmed by the massive scale of the fires. Instead of believing complex causes such as global warming and severe weather, it might somehow feel more comfortable to believe that a relatively simple yet shocking explanation (government forces using powerful lasers to dig trenches). This explanation, though far-fetched, might also reinforce some people's fears and assumptions about government power.
While there may not be an exact audience for this misinformation, we know that there is an audience for it because FactCheck.org mentioned that more than 10,000 people shared the image and explanation.
We also learn in an article from Stanford University that the people most likely to believe conspiracy theories are those who most want to believe it. They describe the power of "confirmation bias," or "the tendency in all of us to believe stories that reinforce our convictions." People who believe the laser theory may already believe that powerful government or military forces are trying to control their lives.
Strategies & Tactics
This example of misinformation has a few strategies to try to increase its believability. For example, each of the images included certainly look like a beam of light striking the earth, so the visual 'evidence' seems strong, initially.
Additionally, the caption with the images asks the question, "Is this evidence that powerful lasers were used to cause these fires?" By posing this as a question, the original author of the image creates a sense of doubt, and doubt can create fear. People who are afraid may be more inclined to believe things that confirm their fear, as I mentioned in the previous section.
Created with images by Michael Held - "untitled image" • Markus Winkler - "untitled image" • Luke Pennystan - "My first time shooting fireworks was incredible!"