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Coronavirus: the biggest conspiracy theories on social media

Julia Miashkova
by Julia Miashkova on February 12, 2020

G

oogling coronavirus is not exactly a feel-good activity. 

 

And yet for the absolute majority of people, the Internet is the only source of information on the newest of global health concerns. It is so new, in fact, that we didn’t even have the time to name it yet. Novel coronavirus is literally a brand new virus of the Coronaviruses family

Although it is widely believed that the source of the current coronavirus outbreak is a “wet” seafood market in Wuhan, hardly anybody is going vegan over it. Instead, people go online and talk coronavirus there. What we end up with is hundreds of thousands of conversations (that go places) vs. very little credible science-based guidance. 

In addition to viral pneumonia, Novel coronavirus germinated a lot of racism and fear. With Sinophobia on the rise, social media becomes the place of speculation, debate, hatred, but also hope and enlightenment, as it homes every viewpoint there is. 

Naturally, we at Awario got curious and started monitoring all mentions of coronavirus on social media and the web to uncover the biggest conspiracy theories behind it. In just 7 days, we collected over half a million mentions, most of them on Twitter.

Sources of mentions of Coronavirus

We then turned to Awario’s sentiment analytics, specifically the key topics popping up right now. Let’s see what kind of speculations were brought to the surface by social listening.  

Topic cloud for the Coronavirus alert

1. Coronavirus is a Chinese bio-weapon against U.S.

As Novel coronavirus came from Wuhan, social media is turning backs on the whole of China. Fueled by prejudice and general lack of perspective, many have pointed to China as the manufacturer of the bio-weapon meant to target the world. 

Whether it’s a native “Chinese vaccine experiment gone wrong” or a weaponized “steal from Canada”, the sentiment towards China that supposedly developed Novel coronavirus is strongly negative. 

2. Coronavirus is a U.S. bio-weapon against China

Against extreme sinophobia, there emerge speculations of the U.S. being the one to blame for the coronavirus outbreak. According to this conspiracy theory, the United States engineered coronavirus as part of its biowarfare against China. 

Quick social listening fact: Trump simply has a way of sneaking into every kind of online argument.

3. Coronavirus is an airborne HIV

Regardless of the country of origin, Novel coronavirus is believed to be lab-made, and it doesn’t help that it responds to HIV-related treatment or contains HIV insertions.

You know social media. People with undefined medical backgrounds shooting diagnoses like pros. 

4. Coronavirus is all about the money  

A potential pandemic is no joke, economically very much included. Wuhan alone is home to 11 million people, and they’re bearing most of the consequences. Under the quarantine, transportation is disrupted, supermarket shelves are emptied in no time at all, production is suspended — not to mention a very real health threat of leaving the house or seeking medical attention.

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak is seen all over China that, being the most populous country and a major supplier, influences the rest of the world. Imagining the financial consequences of cutting China off is easier than it seems. And conspiracy theories aren’t long in coming.

Big brand names are being dropped all over social networks: Tesla, Siemens, Hyundai, Cartier, Marriott. These alone, although just a fraction of the total number of affected businesses, are dealing with major setbacks in production and delivery. We’re likely to see even more buzz around the world’s economic dependence on China in the weeks and months to come. 

5. Coronavirus is orchestrated by Bill Gates

Speaking of money, there’s one name that stands out in the coronavirus talk. Bill Gates, investor-philanthropist among other things, is rumored to have planned Novel coronavirus as a depopulation measure. Although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is allocating millions of dollars to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, the conspiracy is strong.

Bill Gates has been funding research looking into viruses for a while now, but after he appeared in a Netflix documentary, warning the public of a potential coronavirus-like outbreak, there was no going back. The timing couldn’t have been worse, and the billionaire is now forever linked to coronavirus prophecy.

6. Coronavirus is spread via Corona beers and cured with garlic water

Even in the times of a worldwide panic over a health hazard, social media users find ways to get creative about it. 

Creativity borders resourcefulness. A manifestation of that is the alternative medicine used to cure Novel coronavirus. Among the most popular suggestions are sesame oil and freshly boiled garlic water.

It’s understandable that with limited access to healthcare and scientifically grounded advice people turn to traditional remedies. Before you stock up on garlic, however, make sure you cross-check your info.

7. Coronavirus is here to teach us a lesson

Whatever the causes and potential masterminds behind it, novel coronavirus sure gives us a lot of food for thought. Like the many SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemics before it, the current coronavirus outbreak induces fear and speculations. Sadly, in times like these social media becomes the platform for spreading more rumors than actual facts.

Although coronavirus misinformation resistance on social media is growing each day, it’s likely that we’re in for more speculations to come. But with Facebook committed to taking down posts featuring false information about coronavirus, and Twitter providing a safe space for awareness-raising, there’s hope for all of the social media.

Bottom line

When put into perspective, Novel coronavirus is not necessarily the worst health hazard of them all. People with pre-existing medical conditions are more vulnerable, and sanitary precautions are to be observed, but this is nothing new in the world filled with viruses.

The problem is, we only gain perspective with time. While we’re in the middle of it, there will be conspiracy theories and ungrounded claims. Our job is to stay put and read up on at least two WHO-approved recommendations for every borderline crazy speculation found on social media. 
 

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