Conspiracy theories are certainly nothing new. However, in times of crisis or uncertainty, they seem to experience a surge in popularity. Perhaps the attraction is because they make very complex situations seem ultimately very simple. Behind every crisis must be an actor with wicked intentions. That’s certainly easier to reckon with than a confusing mixture of random chance and mundane incompetence.

Conspiracy theories about diseases are nothing new either; witches and Jews were blamed for plagues in the Middle Ages; there were conspiracy theories about Ebola being a weapon from a lab; and the coronavirus pandemic has been variously blamed on 5G networks, the pharmaceutical industry, and Bill Gates.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Piotr, who wonders why there are so many conspiracy theories floating around today, especially since there is no scientific evidence to back them up. Are they particularly popular in times of crisis?

To get a response, we spoke to Professor Michael Butter from the University of Tübingen. As the project leader of “Populism and Conspiracy Theory (PACT)” his research focuses on the importance of conspiracy theories for populist movements. How would he answer Piotr’s question?

On the one hand, we have conspiracy theories because they explain a broad range of events, because they are ‘voracious’, which means that you can always add something new to conspiracy theories. There is actually no significant event in the last few decades – be it the coronavirus, the financial crisis, or plane crashes – that was not immediately added to existing conspiracy theories. You have to think of it as a construction kit. The next chapter of each conspiracy theory is simply written with an old structural pattern.

But I’m not so sure that conspiracy theories are only popular in times of crisis; I think it’s just that we are more aware of them during a crisis. Above all, they are an answer to uncertainty, and sometimes crises bring with them a lot of fundamental uncertainty. We are seeing that right now, in the coronavirus pandemic. Especially in March and April, but even now, nobody really knows what our lives will be like in two or four weeks. Conspiracy theories can offer answers: This villain is behind it, this is where it will lead, and this is what will happen. This offers an apparent security that is easier to accept than chaos and coincidences.

Crisis and conspiracy theories often go together, but not always. The best example is the September 11th attacks. You knew who was to blame, who was behind it, so there were hardly any conspiracy theories. They did not flourish until years later, when the US operation in Iraq was followed by an identity crisis in the USA and with it great uncertainty.

Next up, we had a comment sent in from HJo, who argues there is no excuse to believe conspiracy theories when we have access to so much quality information on the Internet from reputable sources. But hasn’t the Internet made things worse when you can now find all kinds of “evidence” backing up your theories online?

To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Daniel Jolley, who studies the psychological consequences of conspiracy theories at Northumbria University. How does he rate the influence of the Internet on the profluence of conspiracy theories?

Why do conspiracy theories thrive during times of crisis? Has social media allowed conspiracy theories to flourish? Or has the Internet made fact-checking easier? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: Bigstock © Oleg Golovnev; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Butter © privat


21 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Христо

    Conspiracy theories thrive all the time, not only during crisis. It’s just a way for people to feel smart believing that they know something others do not while actually not knowing anything and making fun of themselves. If there is something atheism taught me it’s not to believe in conspiracy theories. All of them are false. All of them.

  2. avatar
    The.King

    So what your saying theories should not be raised and question?? Like in communism if authority said people should blindle believe ? Its sound like that. Cool picture by the way, but your post deliberately creating image of people who question politicians, laws raise question as nuts, stupid, unintelligent. Thats the main stream media wants majority to see. Its not surprised by the way your page is very leftist its nothing new.

    • avatar
      David

      People can question things but when raising theories, they should be backed up. With COVID-19, people blamed 5G, but failed to provide believable evidence and can’t answer simple questions, such as why is COVID-19 in areas where they don’t have 5G. They said wearing a face covering or masks causes harm yet can’t explain why surgeons don’t pass out during operations.

  3. avatar
    Michael

    It’s the same as the mechanism behind religion. When people feel things are out of their control and haven’t the intellectual capacity to explain or understand them, they feel compelled to invent a story that makes sense to them. The trouble is, they then also feel entitled to force you to believe in their story, too, and to behave as if it were true.

    • avatar
      Bryan

      Who told you that, George Soros?

    • avatar
      Michał

      It definitely wasnt Plotinus.

    • avatar
      Michael

      I don’t know the guy, but the way people talk about him he sounds like a saint. I think I’m going to vote for him. 😉

  4. avatar
    Michał

    Is patriarchy theory a conspiracy theory?

  5. avatar
    Maria

    We must learn and Question more. This has nothing to do with plagues. This means Freedom. In EU the opinion is not free since adopting the politically correctness, born in USA, by Dem Socialists.

    • avatar
      Uli

      political correctness might go too far but it’s not too far to ask for a little scientific correctness from certain people.. That’s all what this is about

    • avatar
      Maria

      thats the way I think. I gave my opinion . You have yours

  6. avatar
    Alice

    Conspiracy theories are easy to market and profit off, no matter how batshit.
    The truth is often more rote and boring in comparison.

  7. avatar
    Danielle

    people are scared and are looking for easy answers… voila, vultures like Trump and QAnon pry on those vulnerable people to promote their own political gains…

  8. avatar
    Fei Fei

    When ppl don’t trust the government / institutions / politicians, they tend to believe in conspiracy theories. Especially when they lack info about sth (or the capacity to understand those info).

  9. avatar
    Christos

    Fear… Uncertainty… Lack of information…. Confusion… Mess and cock-ups by governments… Propaganda and misinformation by media that spread panic!

  10. avatar
    Arijan

    Is this even a serious question? In a world where most people believe there is an almighty being up there in heaven who watches and judges your every move and keeps score of your good and bad deeds, and he created the world in 7 days, and all of this information is taken for a fact because a 2000+ year old book says so, why is it hard to understand that people believe in much more plausible things like conspiracy theories? Long story short, if people are dumb enough to believe in the Zodiac, Bad luck, Good luck, God, Magic, Santa, The Easter bunny, Piramid schemes…why wouldn’t they be dumb enough to believe conspiracy theories?

  11. avatar
    István

    Never lie. Once it started, trust is gone.

  12. avatar
    Bernard

    The information is dead, what counts is the audience, the number of like that we will generate and translate into financial income… then the truth has no more value… a disturbing truth like D Trump is the best president of the USA for a century will not be published because contrary to popular imagery, it will be better to publish things that make people click…

  13. avatar
    Guy

    In fact, during all time, when a being or society is faced with questions they have no answer to, they believe to save the bet by taking refuge in belief and faith.
    Like today, one believes in the Golden Calf rather than a God, and pullulates his high priests – gurus of this Calf – and it brings back!
    Well, by the way, doesn’t this remind you of a passage of the Apocalypse?

  14. avatar
    MORTEN LUND

    Conspiracy theories? Who is making a theory? Who is broadcasting it? Why? What is a troll?
    There is a lot to take into consideration.
    Around year 2000 there was a conspiracy theory. It said that a big network on the internet was listing in on private peoples conversations. It read thru private peoples emails. The name of the network was Echelon.
    In the debates on the internet there was a lot of debate about this theory. People was alarmed. They felt violated or resentful.
    I noticed during a short time these debates was disrupted very effectively. The tool was to throw in a lot of complete nonsens conspiracy theories – like there has never been a moon landing or the CIA placed explosives in The twin towers. This way – people who is actually concerned about an actually problem – is look at like lunatics or something.
    History told the thruth about Echelon. It was a conspiracy theories in the beginning. But to talk/debate about it in a sound way was very hard or impossible.

  15. avatar
    Liliane Staner

    Dans les ” comploteurs” il y a des gourous illuminés qui sur internet sont suivis par des milliers de personnes. C’est tout à fait surprenant que les adeptes ” remercient chaleureusement leur gourou après chaque prêche. Mais c’est aussi dangereux, car abuser ainsi de la crédulité publique peut mener à des drames. Je me souviens d’une certain Luc Jouret, un médecin qui avait fondé en Suisse une secte ” Le Temple du Soleil” . Il a mené ses ” followers” jusqu’au suicide collectif . Lorsque certains préconisent la désobéissance ” soyez activiste combattant ” et en présentant les masques comme des ” bâillons : en acceptant de porter des masques nous acceptons de vivre bâillonnés ” ” les masques sont toxiques ” NON au masque NON à la distanciation NON au confinement NON à l’appli de surveillance NON au vaccin obligatoire ” ” l’OMS et les médias nous mentent à longueur de journée , on va être asservis à Bill Gates ” ” l’OMS est la soumission au pouvoir de l’argent ” etc etc.. Tous ces prédicateurs son écoutés et suivis par des milliers d’individus. Il y a péril en la demeure !

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