Already, we can see “alternative healing approaches” to coronavirus cropping up—some of them very dangerousby D Jolley, P Lamberty / March 2, 2020 / Leave a comment
The novel coronavirus continues to spread around the world, with new cases being reported all the time. Spreading just as fast, it seems, are conspiracy theories that claim powerful actors are plotting something sinister to do with the virus. Our research into medical conspiracy theories shows that this has the potential to be just as dangerous for societies as the outbreak itself.
One conspiracy theory proposes that the coronavirus is actually a bio-weapon engineered by the CIA as a way to wage war on China. Others are convinced that the UK and US governments introduced the coronavirus as a way to make money from a potential vaccine.
Although many of these conspiracy theories seem far-fetched, the belief that evil powers are pursuing a secret plan is widespread in every society. Often these relate to health. A large 2019 YouGov poll found 16 per cent of respondents in Spain believe that HIV was created and spread around the world on purpose by a secret group or organisation. And 27 per cent of French and 12 per cent of British respondents were convinced that “the truth about the harmful effects of vaccines is being deliberately hidden from the public.”
The spread of fake news and conspiracy theories around the coronavirus is such a significant problem that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has created a “myth busters” webpage to try and tackle them.
Spread of conspiracy theories
Research shows that conspiracy theories have a tendency to arise in relation to moments of crisis in society—like terrorist attacks, rapid political changes or economic crisis. Conspiracy theories bloom in periods of uncertainty and threat, where we seek to make sense of a chaotic world. These are the same conditions produced by virus outbreaks, which explains the spread of conspiracy theories in relation to coronavirus.
Similar conditions occurred with the 2015-16 outbreak of Zika virus. Zika conspiracy theories proposed that the virus was a biological weapon rather than a natural occurrence. Research examining comments on Reddit during the Zika virus outbreak found conspiracy talk emerged as a way for people to cope with the extreme uncertainty they felt over Zika.
Trust in the recommendations from health professionals and organisations is an important resource for dealing…