A Perfect Storm for Conspiracy Theories

COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories

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COVID-19 a best storm for conspiracy theories – QUT research study tracks Facebook reports of 5G triggering the pandemic. Credit: QUT Marketing and Communication

As the worldwide count of COVID-19 infections heads towards the 20M mark, the pandemic has actually produced what the World Health Organisation calls an ‘infodemic’, offering conspiracy groups a larger platform than ever in the past.

Researchers from QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre have actually taken a deep dive into their world to trace wild reports on Facebook declaring the coronavirus was brought on by 5G innovation. They discovered what was when being preached to the currently transformed was rapidly fanned even more afield by social networks and celebs spreading out the message.

Professor Axel Bruns, Associate Professor Stephen Harrington, and Dr. Edward Hurcombe have actually released their very first significant output from their Australian Research Council Discovery task Evaluating the Challenge of ‘Fake News’ and Other Malinformation.

Working with scientists from Monash University (Melbourne), Syracuse University (U.S.A.), and Cardiff University (UK), the task ranges from mid-2020 to mid-2023. The initially significant short article – ‘Corona? 5G? Or Both?: The Dynamics of COVID-19/5G Conspiracy Theories on Facebook’ has actually simply been released in Media International Australia.

It traces in information the advancements around the ridiculous and harmful belief that 5G innovation might trigger or worsen the signs of an extreme viral infection. The group’s findings were likewise included in an unique episode of the ABC’s Four Corners on Monday 3 August.

“Pre-existing conspiracy groups have jumped on the COVID-19 bandwagon and retrofitted their conspiracy theories to the pandemic, to argue the coronavirus outbreak justifies and proves their claims,” stated Professor Bruns.

“If you are against the roll-out of 5G, for example, then you link it with COVID-19. Other COVID-19 related conspiracy theories include claims it was developed in laboratory in Wuhan, or that it is a ruse by a secret ‘world government’ to suppress civil liberties.”

Dr. Hurcombe stated that the research study concentrated on the COVID-5G report due to the fact that of all the COVID-related false information stories, it has actually created the most instant and noticeable effects. In April, smart phone towers in the UK, The Netherlands, and somewhere else were assaulted.

“Much of the early circulation of COVID/5G mis- and disinformation remained niche and reached only existing conspiracy communities. It also existed early on in a wide range of languages, but English-language content contributed most prominently to its spread,” stated Dr. Hurcombe.

“We found lockdowns and other government restrictions seemed to lead to a growth in COVID/5G misinformation; this may be due to people assuming some kind of hidden agenda behind them, but also simply a sign of people having more time on their hands to search social media for coronavirus-related content.”

Professor Harrington included that celebs like vocalist Keri Hilson and star Woody Harrelson played a substantial function in enhancing mis- and disinformation beyond recognized conspiracist neighborhoods.

“Musicians, actors, sportspeople, and fringe politicians, but (especially in Africa) also evangelist preachers, have all been guilty of this,” stated Professor Harrington.

“Coverage of their statements in entertainment and mainstream media further amplified such misinformation, even if the media coverage was critical.”

Professor Bruns stated when federal governments and health spokespeople were required to react to conspiracy theories, and traditional media release factchecks, the conspiracy theorists have actually reached their objectives.

“It’s win-win for the conspiracy theorists – when their claims are widely reported, even critically, they can then present any denials of their claims as evidence that the government is trying to suppress ‘the truth’,” he stated.

“This makes the real followers much more devoted.

“However, debunking is still valuable if it stops other citizens from falling prey to such mis- and disinformation. The same is true for content warnings and takedowns: conspiracy theorists will see them as proof that there really is a conspiracy, but at least they stop the content from circulating any further.”

Reference: “‘Corona? 5G? or both?’: the dynamics of COVID-19/5G conspiracy theories on Facebook” by Axel Bruns, Stephen Harrington and Edward Hurcombe, 4 August 2020, Media International Australia.
DOI: 10.1177%2F1329878X20946113

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