No, a street lamp won’t give you the virus

Conspiracy theories: Many wild ideas about the virus are themselves “going viral”.

Should conspiracy theories be banned? As the world continues to grapple with the threat of a coronavirus pandemic, troubling fake news about Covid-19 is spreading across the internet.

The panic surrounding the novel coronavirus epidemic has only been made worse by the viral spread of conspiracy theories online.

Here are some of the more outrageous theories:

The virus escaped from a Chinese research lab. Although there are no grounds for this theory – other than there being a lab near the huge city where the outbreak started – it has been repeated by US senator Tom Cotton.

It’s in the airwaves. According to this theory, it is the new 5G technology (that has been rolled out in Wuhan) that is behind the virus.

The US government wants to poison communism. By releasing a man-made virus into China, the US is looking to weaken its main economic rival – so this outlandish theory goes.

Marijuana cures Covid-19. This theory was shared on Twitter by a prominent Indian film-maker, praising the country’s heritage of plant-based cures. However, there is no evidence that cannabis would soothe any of the virus’s symptoms.

Boiled garlic water gives you immunity. Mix eight cloves of chopped garlic with seven cups of boiling water. This rumour spread quickly on WhatsApp where people often trust their contacts. Sadly, scientists give this simple cure absolutely zero credibility.

The coronavirus was patented in 2015. This theory, shared widely across “anti-vaxxer” Twitter accounts, suggests that the disease was made by the governments across the world to control their populations.

Should silly theories like these be banned?

I heard a rumour

Conspiracy theories do nothing but harm in a time of crisis. Fake news should be silenced.

Then again, you cannot stop people making up rumours. Gossip is how people have always discussed what matters to them. Even when people say ridiculous things, diversity of thought and freedom of speech are worth defending.

You Decide

  1. Do you think that all gossip is necessarily bad? Think of a situation where gossip might actually be justified.

Activities

  1. In pairs, role play a conversation where someone believes one of the conspiracy theories listed above. The other person has to try and convince them that they are wrong.

Some People Say...

“Don’t waste your time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.”

Paulo Coelho, Brazilian writer, author of The Alchemist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
YouTube is displaying a banner from the World Health Organisation alongside any video about the virus. Facebook has fact-checkers ranking down false information about Covid-19, limiting the spread of fake news.
What do we not know?
We still do not know the exact origin of the virus, or how to treat the virus. We do not know how to stop rumours from being so convincing and seductive. We do not know how we could ever stop people from questioning the official narrative.

Word Watch

Novel
New.
5G
Fifth-generation, wireless technology for cellular (mobile) devices.
Wuhan
City in central China with a population of 11 million.
Anti-vaxxer
Someone who believes that vaccines don’t work and are a tool for the government to control people.

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