How wrong could a person be

Politics. Easy for everyone

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Text check: Andreas Finken
False news, fake news and conspiracy theories are spread about the corona virus. The article explains what fake news and conspiracy theories are and how to spot them. He gives tips on how to deal with people who believe in conspiracy theories.

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Participants in a demonstration against the corona restrictions in Stuttgart. «My children are 2 + 3 years. Don't give gates a chance »is written on a participant's sign. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The coronavirus is spreading very quickly. In the corona crisis, news about the virus also spreads very quickly.

Below these messages is helpful information. For example, there is information on how to wash your hands properly or how to protect yourself from infection.

Unfortunately, false news spreads just as quickly. These messages then give false information about what protects against corona infection, for example. Or they give false information about where the pathogen causing the coronavirus comes from.

Fake news

Such false reports are also called fake news. Fake news is false news.

There is also false news in the Corona crisis. For example, there was a message about shorter opening times in supermarkets. The supermarkets should only be open a few hours a day. On some days they should also be completely closed. This news was wrong. It scared some people because flour, yeast and toilet paper were often sold out at that time. But it was correct: the supermarkets did not shorten their opening times. They were even allowed to open on Sunday.

Therefore it is very important:
Be critical of news. Is there this news on several websites, on the radio and in the newspaper?

Question the author:
  • Has there been any news from this author that is wrong?
  • Or has the author often written reliably on the topic?
You can also check where the message is coming from:
  • From an interview with a scientist on the Tagesschau? News on the Tagesschau is mostly credible.
  • Or from an anonymous voice message that someone sent you on WhatsApp?
Anonymous means that you don't know who wrote or spoke the message. Anonymous messages are mostly not credible.

An important rule for news retransmission is that if it can't be verified, don't retransmit it.

Some reports are not just false information, but a combination of false and true information that together explain a particular problem or issue. Something like that is called a conspiracy theory.

What is a conspiracy theory?

Conspiracy means that people come together in secret. These people are called conspirators. They want to achieve a common goal. But the goal often harms other people, so they keep it a secret. A conspiracy theory is a guess about such a conspiracy.

In a conspiracy theory there are conjectures and deliberations as to how something could have happened. There are conjectures about what a group of conspirators might have done or planned.

The people who believe in a conspiracy theory are also called conspiracy theorists.

For example, there is a well-known conspiracy theory about the first moon landing, which says: The first landing on the moon did not take place. The filming of the moon landing was made in a film studio. But that's wrong. There are satellite images showing the landing sites of the astronauts. You can also see materials that were left behind on landing.

A conspiracy theory mixes reality and fabricated facts.

In the corona crisis, news about the virus also spreads very quickly. But not all news is true. (& copy Pexels)

How can you spot conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theorists ask:
Whom was something good for? When they find someone, they believe that it is their fault. Sometimes certain people are supposed to be guilty too! An example: In many shops you should now pay with an EC card. One should pay without cash. Some conspiracy theorists therefore say: powerful people in the financial world have always wanted to take our cash away from us. You have now reached your destination because you should pay with the EC card. That is why these people from the financial world are to blame for the coronavirus.

Conspiracy theorists think: Those who benefit from a crisis must be to blame.

Another conspiracy theory says Bill Gates is responsible for the coronavirus. He and his wife Melinda Gates are said to have created the coronavirus. This is how they want to rule the world and control humanity through forced vaccinations.

Bill Gates is very rich. He founded the computer company Microsoft. He has been committed to health protection for many years. For example, he gave a lot of money to the World Health Organization.

Conspiracy theorists believe that he only does this to rule the world and to make a lot of money with vaccines. Some conspiracy theorists also believe that Bill Gates wants to abuse the fast 5G mobile internet. They believe that he wants to control people with it. So in this conspiracy theory, Bill Gates is the bad guy.

Often, however, one cannot clearly distinguish between good and bad. Many things have both good and bad sides at the same time. Many things have different sides. You are complex. Opinions and decisions are also complex. Opinions have good and bad sides. Choices can harm some people and the same decision can benefit other people. Conspiracy theories ignore this. They make a clear distinction between good and bad. Conspiracy theorists say:
• There are conspirators who are evil.
• There are sacrifices who are good.
So conspiracy theories simplify difficult questions.

Most conspiracy theories have these three characteristics:
1. Nothing happens by chance, everything has been planned
A group of conspirators act in secret.
2. Nothing is as it seems
You only know what is really going on when you recognize the secret group. This group planned everything. When problems arise and questions are asked, conspiracy theorists respond similarly. They say that there is a secret plan of the group of conspirators behind it.
3. Everything is connected
Institutions and people work together that one would never have thought of.

These characteristics also show that conspiracy theories cannot be true:
1. There are coincidences in our world.
2. In our world, everything cannot be explained very simply.
3. And in our world, not all events are linked.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?
People need to explain things in the world to themselves. But some things are difficult or impossible to explain. For example, the corona crisis is difficult to explain. The corona crisis can therefore be scary. Lots of things can be scary. Conspiracy theories always give simple explanations for difficult subjects. In this way they can relieve some people of fear. Or they can give them security. People then have the feeling that they are well informed and that they have found an explanation. Or they found someone to be to blame through conspiracy theory. This may reduce the fear, but it is a false security.

Some conspiracy theories are harmless: Those who do not believe in the moon landing do not endanger those around them.

Other conspiracy theories can also be scary. For example, they make fear of the suspected group of conspirators or the end of the world. These conspiracy theories then harm the people who believe in them.

Some conspiracy theories are also dangerous to many people. For example, some people are against vaccination. Conspiracy theorists propose the false theory that vaccination causes autism. If many people believe in this theory, then perhaps many people will stop vaccinating their children. Then dangerous diseases, such as measles, can spread faster.

If you believe that the corona crisis does not exist, that can also be dangerous. These people then fail to take the precautionary measures. They don't wash their hands that often and don't keep their distance. In this way they endanger themselves and other people.

People are quicker to believe in conspiracy theories when they are poor at dealing with uncertainty. The theories then give security. Many people feel insecure in the Corona crisis. Nobody knows exactly how the corona crisis will continue. Therefore, at the moment, conspiracy theories appeal to many people.

People need to explain things in the world to themselves. However, some things are difficult or impossible to explain and can be scary. Conspiracy theories always give simple explanations for difficult subjects. (& copy Pexels)

Where do conspiracy theories come from?

There are three reasons someone might invent or spread a conspiracy theory:

1. Some people believe they have discovered important information.
You want to do something good for the world. They think they are helping other people with their conspiracy theory. You yourself are convinced of their conspiracy theory.
2. Some people make or spread theories because of their political views
You often don't believe in the theory yourself. For example, you invent a theory that says: citizens of a country should be exchanged for refugees. So maybe some citizens of the country are then against refugees. Such theories are often supported by right-wing or racist groups.
3. Some people spread theories in order to make money.
You spread conspiracy theories on YouTube, for example. They make money advertising when a lot of people click on their page. Or people spread conspiracy theories and then sell drugs that are supposed to help against something. Some people spread the wrong theory that the government puts poison in drinking water. They then sell pills that are supposed to help against the poison. However, the tablets are useless and sometimes even harmful. These three reasons can also mix. People who believe in a conspiracy theory may also want to make money from it. People who invented a conspiracy theory may at some point believe it themselves.

How do you deal with people who are convinced of a conspiracy theory?

Some people have a firm belief in a particular conspiracy theory. In such cases it doesn't help anymore to say, "What you believe is a conspiracy theory." It can be more helpful to ask:
  • "Where does your information come from?"
  • "Why do you think that?"
  • "Why do you believe one particular writer is more likely than another?"
Maybe then the person thinks about it and at some point believes less in the conspiracy theory.

It is different with people who do not yet believe in conspiracy theories or who only believe a little. They can be explained how conspiracy theories work and which ones exist. We tried that in this article.

Where can I find information?

There are many fact checks on certain television channels and also on the Internet. There you can check if something is a conspiracy theory.
Here is an example link for a fact check. It's pretty easy to understand.

One conspiracy theory is that the coronavirus is a weapon and was created in a laboratory. The scientists agree: the coronavirus cannot have been produced by humans in a laboratory.

Once you've verified a theory with a fact check, you'll know better. You can then speak out against a conspiracy theory in conversations, in messaging apps, or on the web. Or you can ask people why you believe in a particular theory. More and more people then know what conspiracy theories are and what can be done against them.

If you want to find out more about other conspiracy theories, we recommend our “Special on Conspiracy Theories”.

We also recommend this episode of the podcast "Die Politikstunde"