An atmosphere of panic provides fertile ground for conspiracy theories to take root, and social media just fans the flames.
Artwork by Serg Nehaev
By Alex Dew
Since the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, conspiracy theories about its origin have abounded. Donald Trump initially described it as a “hoax,” and other theories undermining the reality of the pandemic have spread like wildfire on social media. Here’s our guide to the top five conspiracy theories out there, scored out of five possible points based on how much, if any, validity they have:
1. Coronavirus can’t possibly be real because some hospitals aren’t packed.
These are obviously Illuminati paid actors.
One subset of coronavirus deniers is using social media to urge people to film hospitals, sharing footage of “empty” waiting rooms and parking lots. Their rationale is that if the coronavirus were as real or at least as severe as the media reports, every hospital would be packed.
Score: 1 out of 5
Obviously, this theory fails to take into consideration the fact that many hospitals have banned visitors, cancelled elective surgeries, and reorganized waiting areas in keeping with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines. It also ignores the ebb and flow of cases in different geographic areas as the disease traverses the country, igniting in hot spots and dissipating in others.
2. Coronavirus was caused by 5G technology.
This wild theory is the work of “Truther” YouTuber Dana Ashlie, who argued that coronavirus is actually not a virus at all, but an illness caused by the rollout of 5g technology in Wuhan, China. 300,000 posts on Facebook show us that she’s not alone in blaming cell phone technology, but her radiation sickness theory doesn’t account for the fact that cellphones emit only low energy forms of electromagnetic radiation, which can’t lead to radiation sickness.
Score: 0 out of 5
No. Just no.
3. Covid-19 was man-made in a lab.
Okay, so this one actually has a respected name behind it — it comes from none other than Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier, who discovered the link between HIV and AIDS. Montagnier and others have argued that the coronavirus genome contains “insertions” of a sequence from the HIV molecule, and therefore must be man-made in a lab. A variation on this theory is that the virus was created as a biological weapon by China.
Score: 1 out of 5
This theory gets one point because at least theoretically, Montagnier has the resume to back up his claims, although he has been maligned in recent years for supporting homeopathy and wacky theories about autism. However, the science just doesn’t agree with him in this case. Genomic analysis of Covid-19 reveals it has a natural origin, and began as an animal virus that later evolved the ability to infect humans. Also, the genetic sequence for coronavirus contains a key set of amino acids that allows it to bind to human cells, but not the most ideal set that would result in the highest rate of infection. If the sequence were man-made, it is logical to conclude that scientists would have used the ideal set of amino acids, and not one that functions, but does not excel at targeting receptors in human cells. Further, Montagnier’s claims are based on an article about HIV insertions in other viruses that has not been peer-reviewed and garners rejection from many experts in the field.
4. It’s all Bill Gates’ fault.
Many conspiracy theorists are targeting Bill Gates, who has long predicted a devastating pandemic and been at the forefront of many efforts to support communities and develop a vaccine, as well at odds with Donald Trump’s approach to handling the pandemic. Theories run the gamut from Gates’ creating the coronavirus in an effort to secure world domination and depopulate the world to his knowing it was coming and attempting to profit off it. Pastor Adam Fannin called Gates “an Antichrist, a man that proclaims to be God, who will try to unite the world in a one-world government with a one-world financial system and establish a one-world religion.” Fannin, who believes that vaccines are “filled with filthy chemicals and aborted fetuses” argues that Bill Gates wants to vaccinate the world so he can implant the entire population with “quantum dot tattoos” that track their actions and movements, which will somehow enable him to rule the world.
Score: 2 of 5
Did Bill Gates see the pandemic coming? Sure, but so did a lot of people, including the world’s experts on infectious disease. In terms of Gates’ profiting from the disease, while he did fund the development of seven vaccines and the construction of factories to manufacture them, it is unclear exactly what the nature of Gates’ funding arrangement with the vaccine researchers is, or even how profitable the vaccine will be, as it will need to be made easily available to millions of people very quickly. Given that he’s one of the world’s top philanthropists, it is more likely that Gates is funding vaccine development as part of his charitable endeavors. As far as Gates’ aspirations for world domination, global surveillance, or depopulation, there is zero evidence supporting any of it.
5. Coronavirus escaped from a Chinese lab
Wuhan is home to a virology institute, where scientists studied samples of bat dung collected in nearby caves. United States diplomats reported concerns about the safety of the Wuhan Institute of Virology a few years ago in correspondence with the State Department. Trump himself has said the US is actively investigating the possibility of the virus being either purposely or accidentally breached from the institute.
Score: 2.5 out 5
This one gets points for at least being plausible, but the Institute carefully checked its samples and found that the sequence of the novel coronavirus does not match any studied in its labs. The theory is further undermined by the fact that the virus is not human-engineered, and as Dr. Anthony Fauci, said, “We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is possible.”
An atmosphere of panic provides fertile ground for conspiracy theories to take root, and social media just fans the flames. With the world shaken up like a snow globe, it is human nature to try to grasp at anything we encounter to try to make sense of it. But the truth is, a lot of the information out there is baseless. In order to keep you and your loved ones safe, it is important to vet everything you read about the virus. There are resources out there to help — Healthfeedback.org functions almost like Snopes.com but for medical information, and its team of scientists compiled a searchable database of health misinformation providing evidence-based analyses of its validity. When you encounter an article, especially on social media, be sure to take note of the publisher. Factcheck.org offers a “Misinformation Directory” of fake news websites. Now is the time to keep a cool head, stay savvy, and avoid getting your medical advice from YouTubers.