Besides prompting protests outside Twitter’s headquarters to demand removal of its bird logo, viral YouTube videos, and spreading its slogan on country-wide billboards, Gen Z’s Birds Aren’t Real movement has amassed over 600,000 followers on TikTok and 350,000 on Instagram since its creation. The conspiracy theory – which states that the US government has replaced all birds with secret government drone replicas sent to spy on humans – has a catch, though: none of its followers actually believe this.
In a new article by Taylor Lorenz for The New York Times, the movement’s creator – 23-year-old Peter McIndoe – has finally come out of character, revealing the true meaning behind the group.
“Dealing in the world of misinformation for the past few years, we’ve been really conscious of the line we walk,” he told Lorenz, explaining that he doesn’t want any followers to actually believe the conspiracy. “The idea is meant to be so preposterous, but we make sure nothing we’re saying is too realistic. That’s a consideration with coming out of character.”
McIndoe originally founded the group on a whim in January 2017, just after Trump was sworn in as president. Walking past a women’s march, he spotted Trump-supporting counter protestors and decided to write “Birds Aren’t Real” on a piece of paper. “It was a spontaneous joke, but it was a reflection of the absurdity everyone was feeling,” he said. Later, he wrote up a fake “history” of the movement with his friend.
Today, the group continues to fight misinformation with lunacy – hoping to parody and bring attention to the absurdism of today’s real conspiracies, such as QAnon, which states an elite circle of child-trafficking Democrats are controlling the world. For many of the members whose older relatives have been sucked in by conspiracy theories, the group is a way to sort through the madness of their own personal experiences.
McIndoe, himself, was raised in a conservative, religious household in Ohio, where he was taught conspiracies about evolution and Democrats, before discovering new viewpoints on the internet.
“Birds Aren’t Real is not a shallow satire of conspiracies from the outside. It is from the deep inside,” stated McIndoe. “A lot of people in our generation feel the lunacy in all this, and Birds Aren’t Real has been a way for people to process that.”
He added: “Yes, we have been intentionally spreading misinformation for the past four years, but it’s with a purpose. It’s about holding up a mirror to America in the internet age.”
To find out more, scroll through some of Birds Aren’t Real’s TikToks below.