The conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictive government policies and a crashing economy, create fertile ground for conspiracy theories. This may be eased by the online nature of socialization and information dissemination.
Ive personally seen way too much mis- and disinformation about the coronavirus on my various social media feeds. Perhaps the most prevalent piece of this is the viral Plandemic video, which had been circulating on Facebook via a Youtube link until the platforms decided to axe the video due to safety concerns.
Much of what was included in the video was an extended interview with Judy Mikovitz, a figure in the anti-vaccination movement who has produced unsubstantiated claims about vaccinations and had a quite rocky career as a researcher and activist. Because a quick Google search can bring up her records and quickly debunk some of the foundational claims in the video, its a bit disheartening that it gained so much popularity.However, while I was on board with them removing the video, I recognize that the videos removal may hurt more than help matters regarding public distrust in elites handling of COVID-19.
Plandemic, or its claim that the pandemic was orchestrated by a malicious government and health department, is one of many conspiracy theories circulating about COVID-19 in this time of uncertainty, but it is not the strongest. The strongest and most circulated theory is about disinfectant, a claim/theory echoed by President Trump himself; this one is so disproportionate that Axios removed it from its data chart in order to show the other theories to scale.
Most experts and sources say that conspiracy theories are appealing because they offer a relatively simplistic and straightforward explanation for things their believers dont - or dont want to - understand. Nuanced explanations are often taxing and, in some cases, boring. This opens the door for people to find explanations with more accessible and convincing appeal, especially if these explanations reinforce their preconceptions.
Conspiracy theories are simply compelling, and a near majority of Americans believe in at least one. An Axios study found that in their nationally representative survey, a majority of respondents claimed to believe in at least one of the 22 conspiracy theories they were prompted with.
J. Eric Oliver and Thomas J. Wood, in an article featured in the American Journal of Political Science titled Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion, found that half of Americans consistently believe in at least one conspiracy theory by analyzing data from four nationally representative surveys between 2006 and 2011. They also found that while some researchers find conspiracism to be a feature of right wing politics, political conservatism, authoritarianism, and political ignorance were not major factors in whether someone endorsed a conspiracy theory. Conspiratorial politics, it turns out, is a widespread tendency across the entire ideological spectrum.
Apart from ideology, these researchers found conspiratorial politics to be driven more by human behavior and belief in the religious or occult. Common characteristics of conspiracies are that unusual phenomena are claimed to arise from intentional, malicious forces, and that mainstream accounts of these phenomena are either a hoax or a distraction. Conspiracy theories also involve an attempt to interpret complex phenomena as a sort of battle between good and evil, where the believers group attachments play a sizable role. This is why partisan conspiracies have such strong appeal and support, although partisanship doesnt necessarily drive conspiratorial beliefs itself.
Conspiratorial politics also arent a result of political naivete or ignorance, as those who tended to be more politically knowledgeable were no less susceptible to their appeal. The strongest predictor of whether one is to believe in a conspiracy is previous conspiratorial ideation, which usually hinges on two psychological phenomena.
The first is that unexplained and complex phenomena tend to be boiled down to more simplistic, intentional, and malicious forces.
The second is that narratives of good versus evil are quite popular in American discourse and are especially present in religious and populist rhetoric.
The inclination towards attributing malicious intention to unexplained phenomena and processing political information as forces of good versus forces of evil, then, explains how Americans are so captured by conspiracism.
These conspiracies thrive with the internet as a tool, but there is no indication that the internet drives the conspiracies themselves. Often, it can place a natural ceiling on the belief in certain conspiracies; such is true with the Kennedy assassination conspiracism.
While coronavirus conspiracy theories arent as popular as theories involving the 1 percent and Jeffrey Epsteins supposed suicide, they may not have reached their ceiling. Those that center on intentional, malicious forces, such as Plandemic, the idea that the virus has been exaggerated to hurt President Trumps chances at reelection, and the idea that the virus was created and spread on purpose as a bioweapon, most likely hold water because they offer simplistic explanations of malicious, intentional forces in an intriguing narrative of good versus evil.
These kinds of conspiracy theories involving public health will likely continue, just as those involving vaccinations and 5G technologies have. In some cases, the internet-sanctioned public debates on these conspiracy theories may present a natural ceiling. In others, actors like Facebook and Youtube may be forced to intervene if their administrators believe conspiracies at this scale pose a threat to public health and safety, potentially fueling more conspiracism.
In any case, attributing malice to those who believe in these theories is mostly unhelpful, especially given the susceptibility of the larger American public to conspiracism. While questioning and assessing these narratives is necessary, demonizing those who hold conspiratorial beliefs is mostly unhelpful; theyre searching for answers, too.
The best way to navigate popular conspiracy theories, then, is to approach it from the understanding that these theories are a mostly natural phenomenon and that people arent necessarily wrong to endorse some of them. They may be factually incorrect, but they are not behaviorally out-of-bounds.
Further, popular conspiracy theories should be approached with the knowledge that public debate itself can put a ceiling on conspiracy theories. Facebook and Youtube may have added fuel to the conspiratorial fire by removing the Plandemic video.
Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis is relatively new, and the trajectory of these theories is still unknown. They may fizzle out, or they may find more fertile ground. Approaching them productively, and with this knowledge of human psychology, can be helpful both to media platforms and the government.
- Fox News Host Tucker Carlson Blasts Alleged Big Tech Censorship: By Offensive, They Mean The Left Doesnt Like It - Deadline - June 21st, 2020
- 'Gone With the Wind' censorship is a slippery slope - Los Angeles Times - June 21st, 2020
- AG Barr on tech companies censoring viewpoints: 'There's something very disturbing about what's going on' - Fox News - June 21st, 2020
- Resist The Self-censorship Bug - City Journal - June 21st, 2020
- New Report Looks at How People Feel About Online Censorship, and Who Should be Making the Calls on Such - Social Media Today - June 21st, 2020
- The main types of censorship in films: Are they even necessary? - Film Daily - June 21st, 2020
- Censorship and the future of e-readers - Catholic Culture - June 21st, 2020
- Censorship is a growing problem in our news and other media - Bluefield Daily Telegraph - June 21st, 2020
- U.S. senator: Twitter tried to censor me and lost - The Highland County Press - June 21st, 2020
- Is this the maddest target of woke censorship yet? - Spiked - June 21st, 2020
- Gail Asper 'very troubled' by allegations of discrimination at Canadian Museum for Human Rights - CBC.ca - June 21st, 2020
- The Unplug Collective Allows Black Women to Express Themselves Without Censorship - Teen Vogue - June 21st, 2020
- Bolton book decision: Right answer, wrong reasoning | TheHill - The Hill - June 21st, 2020
- Censorship by country - Wikipedia - June 9th, 2020
- Censorship Is Not All Bad | HuffPost - June 9th, 2020
- Why Is Censorship Bad? | Reference.com - June 9th, 2020
- Things you're not allowed to say: lowlights of the new censorship - New York Post - June 9th, 2020
- Barr claims social media platforms 'censoring particular viewpoints and putting their own content in there' - Fox News - June 9th, 2020
- Nazi Propaganda and Censorship | The Holocaust Encyclopedia - June 9th, 2020
- The march of progressive censorship - Spectator.co.uk - June 9th, 2020
- Reddit CEO Steve Huffman thanks users that asked for more censorship on the platform - Reclaim The Net - June 9th, 2020
- The Censorship of COVID-19 Data Around the World | Sam Bocetta - Foundation for Economic Education - June 9th, 2020
- Censorship row over report on UK BAME Covid-19 deaths - The Guardian - June 9th, 2020
- Blood Brothers #36: Social media censorship, nationalism and defending Muslim rulers - 5Pillars - June 9th, 2020
- Bitcoin.com's Mining Video Censored: The Tale of Youtube's Blatant Censorship and Propaganda - Bitcoin News - May 19th, 2020
- Here's How to Fight Censorship In a Nutshell - Discovery Institute - May 19th, 2020
- What Triggered a Biology Journal to Demand Government Censorship of Intelligent Design - Discovery Institute - May 19th, 2020
- OpEd: Has Disney Taken Censorship Too Far With the Latest Disney+ Blur? - Inside the Magic - May 19th, 2020
- People are worried about Disney censoring 'Hamilton' when it comes to Disney Plus this July - Insider - INSIDER - May 19th, 2020
- Does Big Tech censorship ultimately fail, giving more legitimacy to the content it tries to hide? - Reclaim The Net - May 19th, 2020
- Hey, Google, your censorship of 'Plandemic' only turned its author's book into #1 bestseller. Its the Streisand effect, stupid! - RT - May 19th, 2020
- The pandemic is making digital rights violation in Africa, the new norm - Techpoint.ng - May 19th, 2020
- YouTube bans content that contradicts WHO on Covid-19, despite its track record of misinformation - MercatorNet - May 19th, 2020
- Bringing Back Blogs in the Age of Social Media Censorship - WP Tavern - May 10th, 2020
- #MeToo in the land of censorship - Human Rights Watch - May 10th, 2020
- The people have cancelled... there's a new kind of censorship in town - Independent.ie - May 10th, 2020
- Dave Rubin interview: His new book, censorship on the left and what he sees happening in Canada - National Post - May 10th, 2020
- The Darlings are discouraged and disheartened by live stream censorship - The Province - May 10th, 2020
- Twitter accused of 'censorship' after banning Wings Over Scotland accounts - The National - May 10th, 2020
- Facebook Won't Fudge Censorship Oversight, Qumra Sells $80 Million in Holdings and Juganu Revolution in Today's Roundup - CTech - May 10th, 2020
- Facing COVID-19 Misinformation and Censorship in Brazil, Russia, and China - Slate - April 23rd, 2020
- Prince Harry and Meghan Markle accused of censorship over refusal to engage with tabloid media - The Independent - April 23rd, 2020
- German censorship campaign targets scholar over BDS and applies 'antisemitism' charge - Mondoweiss - April 23rd, 2020
- Rex Murphy on COVID-19: The power to censor speech and other great ideas from our Liberal overlords - National Post - April 23rd, 2020
- News on News: Reflecting on institutional censorship and the conversations with the experts - Grand Valley Lanthorn - April 23rd, 2020
- Facebook Pandemic Philanthropy Overshadowed by Its Censoring of Protests - Breitbart - April 23rd, 2020
- Lady Chatterley's censor: Almost 60 years ago, a court case looked to save us from ourselves - The Big Smoke Australia - April 23rd, 2020
- The ADL wants to fight hate in video games, but ham-fisted CENSORSHIP is the last thing we gamers need - RT - April 23rd, 2020
- Internet Censorship During COVID-19 Is Threat To Cryptocurrencies And Liberty - Forbes - April 2nd, 2020
- Social media censorship in the time of coronavirus - Telecoms.com - April 2nd, 2020
- The Coronavirus Has Started a Censorship Pandemic in Turkey, Hungary, Thailand, and Around the World - Foreign Policy - April 2nd, 2020
- Landmarks in law: the controversial 80s play that defied gay censorship - The Guardian - April 2nd, 2020
- Turkey among several countries censoring their coronavirus critics - Ahval - April 2nd, 2020
- Bitcoin Core shifts to dark web to resist censorship - Decrypt - April 2nd, 2020
- It's a bad idea for journalists to censor Trump instead, they can help the public identify what's true or false - The Conversation US - April 2nd, 2020
- The mounting human cost of Chinas coronavirus censorship - Reclaim The Net - April 2nd, 2020
- Society's Dependence on the Internet: 5 Cyber Issues the Coronavirus Lays Bare - Nextgov - April 2nd, 2020
- Turkmenistan bans the word Coronavirus, wearing of masks, in a major censorship move - The Statesman - April 2nd, 2020
- Indias government wants to censor the media to fight Covid-19 but transparency is a better weapon - Scroll.in - April 2nd, 2020
- YouTube continues to ban crypto content; None knows the reason - iNVEZZ - April 2nd, 2020
- How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the Covid-19 Crisis to Grab Power - The New York Review of Books - April 2nd, 2020
- Corona Cover-Up? Videos The Chinese Government Would Rather You Don't See Surface on The Internet - Talent Recap - April 2nd, 2020
- Under the pretext of combating coronavirus States trying to crush the opposition and to tighten censorship - The KXAN 36 News - April 2nd, 2020
- Reporters Without Borders: If the Chinese press were free, the coronavirus might not be a pandemic - Hong Kong Free Press - April 2nd, 2020
- China's Media Censorship Could Cost Thousands of Lives: Journalism Watchdog - Newsweek - April 1st, 2020
- It's a bad idea for journalists to censor Trump instead, they can help the public identify what's true or false - goskagit.com - April 1st, 2020
- Apple Helps China Censor Citizens By Pulling The Plug On A Keyboard App That Encrypted Text Messages - Techdirt - April 1st, 2020
- Bored with the First Amendment | Scales on Censorship - School Library Journal - April 1st, 2020
- John Wick Producer Ordered to Pay Huayi Bros. Over Axed China Release - Variety - April 1st, 2020
- Some mobile phone apps may contain hidden behaviors that users never see - The Ohio State University News - April 1st, 2020
- Bypassing the China firewall needs & ways to do it - KnowTechie - April 1st, 2020
- Society's dependence on the internet: 5 cyber issues the coronavirus lays bare - The Conversation US - April 1st, 2020
- Reporters Without Borders to track coronavirus disinformation - The Shift News - April 1st, 2020
- virtual minecraft library combats government censorship by housing banned journalism - Designboom - March 16th, 2020
- Lessons From China on the Coronavirus and the Dangers of App Consolidation - Slate - March 16th, 2020
- 'Love in time of' coronavirus: Tinder being used to circumnavigate possible Chinese censorship of outbreak - Washington Examiner - March 16th, 2020
- Coronavirus: The new and ingenious ways Chinese citizens are evading censorship to learn about the outbreak - Hong Kong Free Press - March 16th, 2020
- Censorship and Propaganda in the Time of the Coronavirus - Qrius - March 16th, 2020
- Should OTT content in India have a censor board to strap creative freedom just like films? - PINKVILLA - March 16th, 2020
- The big coronavirus cover-up: Fighting truth and coronavirus, the China way - ThePrint - March 16th, 2020