Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories: What’s the Story?
We’ve all seen how a virus can take hold in a population if the conditions are right. Running alongside this, the Covid-19 outbreak has also demonstrated just how easily misinformation can spread in a virus-like way. Start with a major event, add a huge helping of government intervention, some fear and confusion, along with perhaps a little too much spare time, and there you have it: the ideal environment for conspiracy theories to spread.
But just how many of us take these stories seriously? Possibly a lot more than you might think. According to The Independent, almost half the British population think coronavirus is “man-made”, while 8% believe in the 5G conspiracy theory.
Here’s a roundup of some of the theories currently doing the rounds…
This suggests that there isn’t a virus at all. Rather, the symptoms of Covid-19 are actually caused by electromagnetic radiation. Those who support the theory try to argue that the emergence of the illness has come at the same time as the arrival of new 5G antennas. The story goes that there’s something seriously dangerous about these new, powerful 5G radio emissions, and this is what is causing us to become ill.
In common with most conspiracy theories, belief in the 5G story demands a quite a big logical leap.
First off, you have to accept that all the biological and epidemiological data surrounding the virus is either wrong, or that it’s all part of one huge international conspiracy. Having overcome this, you also have to explain the presence of the illness in countries where 5G doesn’t exist.
Despite all this, belief in the 5G theory has been remarkably slow to disappear. Over the Easter weekend alone, there were 20 arson attacks on phone masts. Openreach have said their engineers are being abused when trying to carry out maintenance work, while Twitter has had to step in to curb messages inciting people to attack phone towers.
The 5G stories linger on, but evidence suggests that they are no longer the most popular subject of coronavirus misinformation.
A lot of attention has shifted to Bill Gates. According to The Verge, conspiracy theories linking Gates with the virus were mentioned 1.2 million times across TV and social media between February and April.
Theorists were quick to focus on a 2015 Ted talk given by Gates, in which he discussed the Ebola outbreak and talked about the possibility of a new pandemic. Hard-core anti-vaxxers and other pundits have retrospectively seized on this to suggest he had prior knowledge of the Covid outbreak.
The Bill Gates conspiracy theories come in various flavours. Some people say it’s all part of Gates’ plan to widen his vaccination empire. Others go further, suggesting that the vaccination program itself is a clever ruse to implant digital microchips in vaccine recipients, from which it will be possible to administer a global surveillance system and control the populace.
A man-made virus
It’s probably fairer to label this as more of a fringe theory than a full-blown conspiracy theory. It suggests that the virus was created in a lab, from which it was either accidentally leaked, or else deliberately released. The plausibility factor is increased by the fact that the outbreak’s ‘ground zero’ is very close to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a level-4 biosafety facility, with authority to handle the world’s deadliest viruses.
So could it have been man-made? Anthony Fauci, The US government’s highly respected infectious disease tsar, apparently thinks not. In an interview with National Geographic, he pointed to scientific evidence which suggests “very, very strongly” that this virus could not have been artificially created or else deliberately manipulated”.
But even if it wasn’t artificially created, could it have nevertheless been present at the Wuhan lab, from which it was later able to escape? So far at least, this seems unlikely. According to the most recent comments from the Five Eyes Network, an alliance between the intelligence agencies of US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, there is no evidence of a lab leak.
That said, according to The Guardian, the Five Eyes agencies point to the fact that China has not necessarily been open about the spread of the virus in its early stages. This highlights an important thing to remember about conspiracy theories and misinformation: the less transparency there is from official sources, the greater the scope for people making up their own stories.
Life after Coronavirus, longer term impact on global trends, business and your wider world
Watch the keynote speech - 'Life after Coronavirus, longer term impact on global trends, business and your wider world' presented live at The Millennium Consulting Unit4 Financials Global Virtual Conference.
Presented by Patrick Dixon - Europe's leading futurist.