Another day, another batch of COVID-19 conspiracy theories. And now there’s mounting evidence that these fake stories are targeting, and being distributed, by well-meaning moms.
Having celebrities weigh-in on those theories doesn’t help.
Celebrities Are Not Doctors
Being a celebrity doesn’t inoculate a person from idiocy, especially when it comes to science. But, that didn’t stop musical icon Madonna from pushing the latest COVID-19 nonsense.
After seeing a video featuring a group of doctors, none of whom are specialists in actual viral outbreaks (and one of whom insists that female complaints are due to sexual congress with demons), Madonna posted on Instagram, “The truth will set us all Free! But some people dont (sic) want to hear the truth,” claiming that authorities were hiding the cure for the coronavirus. These so-called doctors also pushed the now discredited drug hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for the virus, and downplayed the need for masks.
According to Vulture, Instagram not only debunked the singer’s claim, but also removed the post. Still, the post was up, was seen, and probably influenced some. The lesson here: Celebrities are capable of posting lies and misinformation, so double check the accuracy of everything, no matter who posts it.
Conspiracy Theories Prey on the ‘Worried Well’
As the gatekeepers of their families’ health, mothers in particular are a prime example of the “worried well” — people who aren’t hypochondriacs, but who worry that they or their family may be ill due to an ache, pain, spasm, and sniffle even though they are healthy and well. Mom influencer culture amplifies this anxiety, and conspiracy theories leverage the idea that danger lurks everywhere, that it’s deliberate and highly organized, and that you must be vigilant to avoid it.
According to Motherly, one completely ridiculous and debunked theory, that web site Wayfair was being used to traffic children, was shared by a “wave of mom influencers.”
Another example is the video “Plandemic.” Featuring anti-vaccination figure Dr. Judy Mikovits, it pushes the claim that Dr. Anthony Fauci helped “invent” COVID-19 in a lab and then sent it to China, where it was accidentally released. It offers such dubious advice as foregoing masks and hand washing (apparently it increases the risk of catching it), and that the government is trying to control the population through vaccines. Although widely panned and debunked as self-promoting, fear mongering nonsense (as well as being simply implausible), the video was widely shared.
It was also carefully crafted to seem credible. “I’ve found that this mix of information types makes it difficult for people, including those who build and run online platforms, to distinguish an organic rumor from an organized disinformation campaign,” Kate Starbird, Associate Professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington, told Motherly.
How to Identify a Conspiracy Theory
No sensible person wants to spread false or malicious content, and Motherly gives an excellent checklist for identifying fake theories before mistakenly sharing them. When reading information that sounds miraculous, inflammatory, or too “good” or convenient, keep these things in mind:
- Contradictory Beliefs
For example, the “Plandemic” video offers two different conflicting origin stories for COVID-19.
- Overriding Suspicion
It is healthy to be skeptical, but an immediate distrust of any official or mainstream information is a red flag for misinformation.
- Nefarious Intent
False information often assumes nefarious intentions before all other possibilities, a major characteristic of both the Wayfair controversy and “Plandemic.”
When theorists change their mind about how the conspiracy works but remain convinced that the official or scientific account still cannot be accurate, that false sense of conviction is a sign of misinformation at work.
- Persecuted Victim
If a piece of information presents those sharing as victims of a vast, organized deception but also paradoxically as heroes fighting victimhood, it’s probably part of a conspiracy theory.
- Immunity to Evidence
Conspiracy theories declare themselves irrefutable and self-healing—they cannot be challenged with evidence.
- Reinterpretation of Randomness
If a piece of information suggests that unseen, scary connections exist everywhere, it’s likely misinformation.
If you do fall for a conspiracy theory, and mistakenly post about it, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. According to a Pew Research study released in June, about 25% of Americans think there’s some truth to the theory that shady powerful people created COVID-19. And 5% believe it completely.