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Home Columns Opinion Pandemic horrors: Understanding how fake news spreads

Pandemic horrors: Understanding how fake news spreads

Last updated 6 months ago by UtrechtCentral.com

Conspiracy theories usually evolve in difficult times. In the blink of an eye, they spread within society, and sometimes they even replace authentic news. One of the major problems with them is that they create fake and unnecessary concerns. Such concerns occupy people’s minds, leading to a lack of mental space for real concerns.

The Utrecht Data School in collaboration with De Groene Amsterdammer have investigated the patterns through which conspiracy theories spread on social networks. Here I briefly summarize the ways in which these trends go viral.

The burning of 5G towers

One of the greatest conspiracy theories in times of Covid-19 might be related to the harmful effects of 5G technology. Believers in this theory blame 5G towers for the spread of coronavirus.

Hearing something like this can be extremely disturbing. But the conspiracists do not stop here. They make various attempts to set 5G towers on fire and agitate other people to join them. Interesting!

The research of Utrecht Data School and De Groene Amsterdammer identifies the importance behind this impulsive actions. It departs to trace the conspiracy thinking in social media platforms. The aim is to find origins and spot a pattern of spread in 5G conspiracy theories via Twitter and Instagram.

Photo by Pixpoetry on Unsplash
Photo by Pixpoetry on Unsplash

Social media accounts that spread conspiracy thinking

The research claims that the conspiracy theory of 5G was prevalent among the right-wing sphere on Twitter, which gradually spread among the mainstream and left-progressive sphere.

On Instagram, it is harder to trace the theory back to the origin as it is a picture-based platform. However, the research has managed to connect a chain of accounts. They share similar words and imagery which associates them to the 5G conspiracy thinking. Don’t forget that some of these accounts belong to Instagram influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers.

Motives behind the conspiracy mindset

Furthermore, the research touches upon the motives behind conspiracy thinking. Needs for spirituality and guidance in times of global horror are the most important ones.

It does make sense that people look for some simple solutions, or some specific elements to avoid when they are panicked. Having a clear set of causes and eliminating them reduces the horror of an unknown monster which devours whomever it sees.

If we could only blame everything on technological devices, then we could simply take them down and live happily ever after, right?

The classic way of conspiracy thinking is to avoid seeking truth and invent narratives to justify the unjustifiable. Nowadays, however, the explosion of information does not allow for seeking origins and coming up with a logical narrative.

If a popular figure adequately covers a story, then the widespread transmission of it is almost granted. This turns social media into a potential explosive.

I would phrase it as ‘explosive’ since it creates alternative systems of cause and effect. These systems are not accurate and do not follow the system of logic established in science.

Well, maybe we cannot unquestionably trust science. But, could we then trust ideas developed out of superstition? Or worse, out of boredom of some people who spend most of their lives on Instagram?

Therefore, maybe before starting to panic over conspiracy theories we hear – and we will hear in the future – it is better to think about the origins and logic of them.

Source: Utrecht University

Shabnam Shirzadi
Shabnam Shirzadi
Shabnam Shirzadi is a dramatic writer and researcher based in Amsterdam. She has currently graduated in Theatre Studies from the University of Amsterdam. As a writer, she had experienced with different forms of integrating fact and fiction in her previous works to create an alternate history in our imaginations. Currently, museums, castles, and remnants of old architecture and civilization inspire her. At the same time, she tries to find her way in mythology, fiction, and drama by reading and writing about them. For her, writing is the only vehicle through which she can travel in times and spaces.


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