The danger of conspiracy theories

Miriam Tose Majome

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a conspiracy theory as “the theory that an event or phenomenon occurs as a result of a conspiracy between interested parties. It is motivated by the belief that some covert but influential agency is responsible for an unexplained event”. Simplified it is the belief that there is something more than meets the eye. Something sinister is believed to be at play, but is hidden from the people, the ultimate aim being to deceive and manipulate them for some selfish gain.

By Miriam Tose Majome

This is a time of great uncertainty and fear for the human race. Not since the HIV/Aids pandemic in the 80s/90s has the world been challenged by a health crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19. It is the first global health crisis post social media ie Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and WhatsApp amongst the most popular plaforms. The world is more connected now and communication remarkably easier than at any other time in history.

The internet is enabling conspiracy theories to be delivered across the world seconds after they have been hatched. There is a proliferation of conspiracy theories as people try to make sense of current global tragedy.

People are only getting more confused and bewildered with the rush and glut of information.

The worst affected are those who are naturally prone to gullibility because they are persuaded by every bizarre theory that lands in their phone.

The most popular conspiracy theory worldwide is that the coronavirus has been caused by 5G technology. 5G technology enhances the capacity and speed of cellular technology and it is being rolled out in some parts of the developed world.

The interesting thing about this theory which makes it the most popular one is that anyone can just suddenly be a science expert, no qualifications or knowledge are required. One only needs to assert it and it is enough to convince some people. 5G technology is still a long way from coming to Zimbabwe but many people are already rejecting it based on WhatsApp and Twitter posts.

Very few people have actually bothered to do their own research to verify this theory but are opting to rely on the opinions of pseudo-scientists, other ordinary people or their religious leaders.

Some religious leaders are also helping to stoke conspiracy theory fires as they are at the forefront of endorsing and promoting them. They are seizing this optimal moment to preach end of the world doomsday theories to scare people into religious belief.

The majority of the world’s scientists agree that 5G technology is not responsible for the origins of the coronavirus. The irony is that the people who spread pseudo-science and dismiss proven scientific opinions do so using electronic devices and gadgets derived through science.

Last week we discussed the importance and relevance of science and the urgent need to stop relying on pseudo-scientific or supernatural explanations as the cause of things. Political and religious leaders are very influential people and at this confusing time they would do well to guide their followers away from pseudo-science and encourage them to read basic science books and the scientific explanations for the origins of viruses. The 5G–coronavirus conspiracy theory is actually not that hard to debunk with even a little bit of knowledge of biology.

Noah Harari author of the best-selling book Sapiens said: “If somebody tries to convince you of a conspiracy theory about the origin and spread of coronavirus ask them to first explain what a virus is and how it causes disease. If they don’t have a clue, don’t trust their theory. A PhD isn’t a must but basic biology is.’’

Various resources are also widely available on the internet and so ignorance is a choice in a world where information is instantly available at the click of a button.

For those who do not like to read and have internet access YouTube is a good resource and is a good chance to hear the opinions of experts who know what they are talking about. There is no excuse to rely on other ordinary people’s opinions when people can simply do their own research. Knowledge about basic science principles is not divinely inspired and does not need middlemen to transmit it after school.

Coronavirus theories range from the funny to the bizarre to the disconcerting. Widely shared posts claim that the coronavirus was planned by Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. It is said that he is sponsoring a vaccine which will be administered through a microchip to be inserted under the skin so that Microsoft will finally achieve its mission to control the world. Other theories say that the coronavirus was engineered to spread HIV, but it is not clear by who and for what purpose. In Iran, pro-government voices claim the disease is a Western plot to kill and subdue the Persian and Arabic world once for all. In China where the virus originated rumours are that it was created by the United States army to kill Chinese people so that the US wins the battle to control the world’s economy.

Corona conspiracy theories are dangerous because they lead people into denial and cause them to disregard recommended good practices that help to stem infection rates. The belief that the COVID-19 pandemic could simply be just be a ruse by unspecified powers militates against good health practices and cripples the flow of and receipt of vital accurate information and life-saving knowledge.