The COVID-19 pandemic is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. When people suffer a loss of control or feel threatened, they become more vulnerable to believing conspiracies. For example, the Black Death in the 14th century inspired anti-Semitic hysteria and when cholera broke out in Russia in 1892, blame fell on doctors and crowds hunted down anybody in a white coat.
How do we avoid being misled by baseless conspiracy theories? Conspiracy theories are identified by telltale thought patterns. Learning these patterns is key to inoculating ourselves and society against the corrosive influence of conspiracy theories. The seven traits of conspiratorial thinking are:
As some states start relaxing their social distancing measures, experts expect this will unfortunately lead to a spike in COVID-19 infections. We also expect that as the number of infections rise, so will the conspiracy theories. Fortunately, there is a way we can inoculate the public against this type of misinformation – by learning the traits of conspiratorial thinking.
The How to Spot COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories handbook, authored by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Ullrich Ecker, and Sander van der Linden, looks at possible examples of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and identifies how they illustrate the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking.