Why people believe Covid conspiracy theories: could folklore hold the answer?

Researchers have created a map of the connections that underpin conspiracy theories about coronavirus, which opens up new ways of understanding them and challenging them.

Researchers from UCLA and Berkeley used Danish witchcraft folklore to model their analysis. They analysed thousands upon thousands of social media posts using an artificial intelligence tool, and identified the most important people, things, and relationships.

This tool allowed them to reconstruct the core stories of conspiracy theories about coronavirus from fragments found online. One of the most important findings from the research is that conspiracy theorists link 5G to the virus. These storytellers were able to connect the two because of Gates' background in computer technology as well as vaccination programmes.

Gates is a constant figure in anti-vaccine stories. Professor Timothy Tangherlini, a folklorist and one of the researchers of the research, said that Gates is a great villain. It's Gates global influence in tech, then health that places him at the center of many conspiracies.

Bill Gates is currently in Africa. He's there because everyone has computers and then he pushes these vaccines.

Folklore is more than a model for AI. Tangherlini is a specialist in Danish folklore and is interested in how conspiratorial witchcraft folklore developed in the 16th and17th centuries.

While witches were once accused of creating potions from herbs that caused miscarriages in the past (a practice that was criticized by some), we now hear that Gates uses coronavirus vaccines to sterilize people. Nicki Minaj, an American rapper, repeated a version of the story without Gates, but claimed that vaccines had caused men's testicles swelling, rendering them infertile.

Research also suggests a way to break through conspiracy theory logic. This offers a glimmer hope as more people are drawn in.

Below is a sample of anti-vaccine stories discovered by researchers.

The conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus are being mapped

5G refers to a frequency that transmits mobile phone signals. It was found to be a central topic in anti-vaccine stories by researchers. 5G can cause anxiety. However, it is not clear why. There are theories that 5G waves have a frequency similar to microwaves. 5G could be the focal point of fear regarding technology in general and people's concerns over its power over their lives. Some people have linked 5G to health and sickness, regardless of the reason for initial suspicion. These fears have now spread to other equipment used by phone networks, including masts located in residential areas. Protests across the globe have targeted these masts. Then Bill Gates is drawn in. Although his work at Microsoft didn't involve 5G, he was deeply connected to technology. Many believe that this is enough to connect him to 5G in these stories. Gates is a powerful man with connections across many spheres. While his funding of research facilities might be viewed as positive, the spread of stories about flawed research has made this an undesirable association. Similar to his funding of health programs in African countries, it could also be considered positive. These stories show that he isn't helping Africans, but 'using' them. Gates may also be obsessed with depopulation. People began to link his health programs to this "obsession". Existing conspiracy theories were shattered by the sudden arrival of coronavirus and the panic that it caused. Gates was quickly enticed by the story that the virus originated at a research facility. This is due to his research funding. This is in line with other fears that the virus may have been intentionally created to be a bioweapon. Gates' offer to finance coronavirus vaccines draws him in even deeper. Instead of funding vaccines to protect against the virus, claims have surfaced that he injects it. Existing suspicions about Gates' work in Africa are reactivated by the Gates connection. Who is the vaccine intended to kill if it is designed to do so? Gates' "link" to 5G links the virus and the mobile signal technology. People have suggested that 5G is coronavirus, as 5G was previously associated with health issues. Further details are provided: 5G frequency is spreading the virus, and 5G equipment makers have some sort of deal to spread it. The vaccine is the next step. Some believe that the vaccine was created by pharmaceutical companies to make money selling vaccines. People believe that the different vaccines are bioweapons because of China's origin. This link to Africa, suggesting that vaccines can be used to sterilize Africans, is consistent with previous suspicions about Gates' motives and his influence in African healthcare. The vaccine is designed to lower the risk of infection. In conspiracy theory, this is rewritten and people claim it is infected. These stories, taken together, connect a lot of things people already fear to the new threat from coronavirus. It is a myth that many people believe, and it gives them lots of reasons to not get vaccines. Loading ....

Bill Gates: Why?

A lot of people will mention one name. Is it possible to blame Gates for everything?

Tangherlini says that he has become a symbol of the worst aspects of big tech.

He has information, computing power, and more money than anyone in the world. Now he wants to show you how to live your life.

While the outcomes of his philanthropy might be objectively good, it is the inability to hold his foundation and funding accountable that concerns people. His position as the most influential decision-maker in global healthcare is not a conspiracy. It has an impact on the lives and health of millions of the poorest people around the globe.

He is not elected nor accountable. Even though most people are aware that there is a lot, they don't know where or why it all goes.

This foundation is a black box. With black boxes, you can assign all kinds of things to them. He is going to do something that smells of colonialism, he's going to help the black and brown poor in Africa.

Bill Gates is currently in Africa. He's in every house, because everyone has computers. Then he pushes these vaccines. We already know that vaccines are dangerous, threatening, or come from the outside.

Tangherlini claims that this is not what Gates believes, but that he's a great villain. His storyline is in line with antisemitic stories that have been circulated for centuries throughout Europe.

This is the whole point of a blood libel. Poisoning the wells is a great idea. This is very similar to the faulty vaccination movement. These motifs are very common. They are interchangeable, it's like algebra.

Why not Jeff Bezos instead?

It is partly Gates's venture into global medicine, as well as his contact with Jeffrey Epstein, that have given him the omnipresent villain title. But there are other factors that indicate that it is him, and not Jeff Bezos, or Larry Page, who is at center of conspiracy theory web.

Tangherlini says that you can only have one person in these stories and it is difficult to add another. If I start telling stories about Jeff Bezos and my friend hears it, he'll say, It's a great story, but I'm going to tell it again to Bill Gates. So there's a regression back to the mean.

Folklore has this law of self-correction. If something doesn't fit, you can go back to how you heard it from 15 others. You might hear me saying Jeff Bezos. If three people say Bill Gates, it will be Bill Gates.

Why is it that people believe things that are so absurd?

Tangherlini says conspiracy theories are often born out of unusual or catastrophic events. They thrive in areas where trust is lacking.

The massive industrialization brought about catastrophic events in 16th- and 17th century Denmark. Access to reliable, consistent information was difficult for those living on small farms. This is when stories about witches began to emerge.

It is clear today that the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on everyone's lives. It seems that a lack information is not a problem for wealthy countries. The overload of information online can have the same impact as the lack of trustworthy information that Danish farmers experienced several centuries ago.

This is where conspiratorial storytelling enters and stories begin to be created. Stories are powerful ways to talk about our fears.

Stories are great at grabbing our attention.

In a conspiracy universe... Bill Gates Witches... make technologies like microchips... use technologies such as milking pins and ointments... Through vaccination, he implant the microchips into people and activates them using 5G... The goal of Gates is... to serve Satan and achieve his goal... world dominance... world dominance

The stories that we fear are often the most compelling.

In a conspiracy universe, Bill Gates Witches is part of the child traffickers cabal... make children work for them and kidnap them... Jeffrey Epstein helps Bill Gates traffic children... Gates eats the children as part of a Satanic ritual... The robbers eat their hearts

Stories are a way for people to deal with dangers.

These stories are more than just alerts. They are places where people can try to figure out what they should do and who is against them.