Why COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Are Seemingly Ubiquotous

As is customary with every unfortunate and tragic event which befalls the world, the COVID-19 crisis has brought with it a fair amount of conspiracy theories. The theories range from talk of the virus having been biologically engineered by the Chinese to be used as a biological weapon to it being spread by 5G networks to it being some form of population control mechanism and despite this diversity in the nature of theories, one thing they have in common is that they are absolutely absurd and easily debunkable.

To start with, the first theory about the virus having been made in a lab is ridiculous because mutations which have been found on the genetic sequencing of the virus are consistent with those that occur in a case of natural evolution which means the scientific explanation that the Coronavirus is a zoonic virus transmitted by bats holds. The second theory about the virus being some form of population control mechanism manufactured in China is also ridiculous firstly because of the aforementioned reason that its genetic sequencing is consistent with natural evolution and secondly because despite the Wuhan Institute of Virology having been studying coronaviruses prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the genetic sequencing of the new SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19 is in no way identical to the viruses sampled and studied by the Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists.

Last and definitely not least, the conspiracy theory about the virus being transmitted by 5G networks is easily debunkable with help from secondary school level knowledge of biology and physics. It is biologically impossible for viruses to spread using the electromagnetic spectrum because the electromagnetic spectrum comprises waves or photons while viruses are biological particles made up of proteins and nucleic acids.

Despite the laughable and illogical "evidence" of most conspiracy theories, they still manage to permeate the fabric of social communications and actually stick to a point where even the most intellectual of people end up considering them to contain at least some element of truth. How is it that such absurd rumors can manage to infiltrate and be accepted as truth by a society which has access to endless means of checking and verifying the evidence behind the theories?

One probable explanation might be in the way the algorithms of social media networks which is is where most of the conspiracy theories originate and spread work. The filter bubble, which is a form of intellectual isolation incurred by social media users as a result of how the algorithms which manage how the social networks can cause users who are in one particular bubble to have access to the same information, in this case, a conspiracy theory, and because it would be prevalent among many people in that bubble, it becomes easier for members of the bubble to interpret it as the truth. The main premise behind the concept of filter bubbles is that because of groupthink, people are more inclined to believe a particular piece of information if those around them consider it to be factual.

The other reason as to why COVID-19 conspiracy theories are prevalent could lie in some aspects of human nature. By design, human beings are always looking to understand how and why things happen because we are "meaning machines" like that. The fact that some invisible germ came around and put virtually the entire world on pause and that little is known and can be done about the scourge caused by this little germ goes against our very nature and alleviates our anxieties so, in response, we look for meaning and understanding wherever we can find it, even in conspiracy theories.

Lastly, the reason COVID-19 conspiracy theories are rife could lie in the simple reason that people are too lazy and lethargic to think through these theories presented to them. Because of the lack of context on most social media platforms, people go with whatever they read without stopping to consider if its factual information or merely conjecture. Conspiracy theorists take advantage of this lack of zeal to do research by most social media users and they feed off the feeling of intellectual superiority they get from seeming like they are the only people who have all the answers.

The damage that can be done by conspiracy theories is grave. From some people not abiding by COVID-19 regulations because some conspiracy theory told them that the disease is not even real to some Chinese citizens being assaulted because some conspiracy theory told them the virus was purposely made by the Chinese to some people destroying 5G towers because some conspiracy theory told them that they are the source of the virus, conspiracy theories are detrimental to the fight against this scourge. The fact that even high ranking political figures who wield a lot of influence like US President Donald Trump exacerbate conspiracy theories by for example referring to the Coronavirus as the "Chinese virus" makes the fight against misinformation surrounding the pandemic all the more difficult.

Tackling this "fake news" requires patience because as a result of the intrinsic human vice of confirmation bias, people who believe conspiracy theories are bound to be hostile to information which challenges or rebuts what they already know and hold high and mighty. The more you try to show a conspiracy theorist the fault in their stance, the more zealous they get in supporting and standing by that stance. The best thing to do then would be to try to communicate with the conspiracy theorist as respectfully and kindly as possible by sharing your own information and perspective and hoping for the best.

As for social media users, the best way to prevent reading and eventually becoming entrapped in and radicalized with conspiracy theories is to escape the filter bubble by being as diverse as possible with the content and interactions you make on the various social media channels. Having knowledge of varying perspectives puts you in a better position to be able to differentiate facts from conjectures and hence be capable of escaping the ferocious sweeping wave of conspiracy theories.


  1. I would say that calling it the Chinese virus is warranted as it did in fact come from China.


Post a Comment