“The corona pandemic has fueled conspiracy thinking” | NOW

QAnon, climate denial, the 5G network as the cause of corona and corona as a biological weapon: is the conspiracy theory on the rise? And how do these theories actually come about? The conspiracy theory researcher Jan-Willem van Prooijen: “Conspiracy thinking is a kind of self-protection mechanism.”

Is conspiracy thinking more common than before?

“In principle, it’s timeless. Conspiracy theories were widespread in the Middle Ages too. Just think of the witch hunt: When young women were suspected of collaborating with the devil. Conspiracy theories are now more visible thanks to the internet and social media. Spread faster. But that doesn’t mean necessarily that more people believe in it. “

Has the corona crisis sparked conspiracy?

“Sure. There are all sorts of theories about the virus. That COVID-19 doesn’t exist, that because of the 5G network, the Chinese or Bill Gates are behind it … This has resulted in all kinds of subplots with a common core. That we lied to be: by politicians, the RIVM and the media. “

‚ÄúScientists, journalists and policy makers need to be able to get their jobs done. Absurd stories like the one that powerful elites run a pedo network don’t help. “

Jan-Willem van Prooijen, researcher of conspiracy theories

How do conspiracy theories arise?

“Conspiracy thinking is often triggered by crises in society. It is a reaction to an unsafe situation. In this case, it is uncertainty thanks to corona: about our health, our jobs and our future in general.”

“It’s kind of a self-defense mechanism. When we’re in a threatening situation, we try to understand it. Conspiracy theories are one way to do this. Just like religion or belief in the magical or the paranormal. Whatever comes into play: fear.” causes this to happen. People assume the worst: When they’re afraid, they’re more likely to believe that there are evil forces at work wanting the worst for them. “

Why are these theories currently targeting institutions like science, politics, and journalism?

“In these uncertain times, people need clear answers. They don’t get them because experts don’t always agree. Science is considering and looking at things from all angles. It takes a long time before something is scientifically proven.

Also, the message often changes: first mouth masks didn’t work, then they worked. For some people, for example, the question arises whether the media and science are doing well. “

Violent incidents have also occurred recently. Among other things against threatened NOS journalists. Has that to do with conspiracy thinking too?

“Radicalization lurks in conspiracy thinking. The conviction of one’s own rights makes dissidents intolerant: one’s own ideas are superior and the other has immoral thoughts. In extreme cases, this can lead to violence: the dissent is one. A traitor and must be silenced.”

Are you concerned about these types of violent incidents in society today?

“Yes. Radicalization and violence have a disruptive effect on society. Especially during the corona crisis, it is important that people trust the guidelines of experts, are well informed and contribute constructively to solutions.”

“It is imperative that scientists, journalists and policymakers can do their jobs unhindered. Absurd stories like the fact that powerful elites run a pedo network together are certainly not helpful.”

DR. Jan-Willem van Prooijen is a psychologist and researcher at the Free University of Amsterdam. He researches conspiracy theories and is the author of the book The psychology of conspiracy theories.