Why are people believing conspiracy theories?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, humanity seems to be returning to a primitive belief system, that of the conspiracy theory. One of the more harmless conspiracy theories suggests that if you look very closely at a £20 note you can see a 5G tower giving off emissions next to the coronavirus symbol. It sounds ridiculous, but it seems that increasingly a number of people are beginning to believe these conspiracy theories. This includes celebrities, politicians and those who should really know better.

Conspiracy theories around coronavirus range from claims that Covid 19 was created in a Chinese bioweapons facility whilst others insist that it is part of a mass vaccination campaign started by Bill Gates.  The Iranian government has gone so far as to suggest that the virus was specifically designed to target Iranians by using their genetic data and have accordingly blamed the US for this. Then there is the biggest conspiracy theory associated with the coronavirus, the belief that it originates with 5G technology. 

The 5G conspiracy theorists have been out in the wilderness for a great many months already, but they really came to prominence during the months following the coronavirus outbreak. Some claim that 5G compromises human health and weakens human immune systems, thus making people more susceptible to the coronavirus. Then there are those who claim that 5G doesn’t cause coronavirus symptoms but instead the government is using the coronavirus as a convenient excuse to install 5G across the country. There are also claims that the disease had broken out in Wuhan because of mass 5G presence there and that Covid 19 hotspots were also covered by 5G

If these conspiracy theories sound ridiculous to you and you are wondering how anyone could fall for them, think about something you’ve heard from someone you know or something you’ve read, and whether you’ve stopped and wondered if it could actually be true or not. 

54% of Americans believe that their government is covering up what exactly it knows about 9/11. 46% and 45% of British respondents to a YouGov survey believed last year that Donal Trump’s team knowingly worked with Russian agents to get Trump elected President, despite the Mueller inquiry finding no collusion.  

These are fascinating numbers though not surprising.  9/11 was an event that shook the world to its core, but the perpetrators came from a known allied country to the US, consequently, it is perhaps natural that Americans would feel that their government would not be telling them the whole truth. Especially when one considers the chaos that came from 9/11 with failed invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and countless dead. 

As for the suspicions around Trump being a Russian stooge, well, both Germany and the UK are at odds with Russia over numerous things, Trump is such a change to Obama and to how most US presidents have carried themselves that it would be understandable if both nations were confused over how Americans could elect such a man. The only possible explanation that some might find for such an anomaly is that he got outside help. Given how much praise Trump has given Putin, some might argue that it is an easy connection to make.

Do you see how easy it is to come up with an explanation for the theories above? When people already harbour doubts about the world they see outside their door, and when they aren’t sure who to trust, they will find it easy to justify any number of ideas that they would normally dismiss as crazy. It becomes easier to justify belief in such theories when those who are knowledgeable about such matters also believe them. 

Take Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian Journalist who exposed the Cambridge Analytica scandal and even got a Netflix documentary on her work.She is touted as an expert on such matters and is a fervent believer that something shady was going on in 2016, and thus she is brought onto various channels to speak, she has gained a considerable following from people disillusioned with what they see as a corrupt society. She speaks to people searching for a way to understand the new world they live in. She believes the same things they do, and thus she is their justification for their beliefs no matter how crazy.

Another example involves the several prominent journalists calling into question the veracity of whether Boris Johnson was actually ill with Covid 19. Johnson is not popular with certain sections of society and his illness was seen as coming at a convenient time for him. When people like Chris Lockwood (European Editor for the Economist) make a claim that Boris wasn’t actually ill, it gives his followers and those of a like mind room to justify their own suspicions no matter how nefarious. 

We live in a time when people are scared and fearful of the world around them, when they do not know who to believe and what to think. The more uncertainty there is that cannot be explained in simple binary terms, the easier it will be for people to descend into primitive conspiracy thinking. We are animals after all, and for all we dress ourselves up in a facade of complexity, we are simple people. We do not like things to be difficult to understand, the more difficult they are, the easier it is to believe a conspiracy is at play.

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