Almost half of Canadians believe at least one popular coronavirus conspiracy theory or myth, including 26 per cent who believe COVID-19 is a Chinese-engineered bioweapon released from a lab, according to a new survey from Carleton University.
In an interview, Carleton University journalism professor Josh Greenberg said study authors found popular conspiracy “memes” are seeded and distributed in the “highly fragmented” information-sharing landscape of social messaging apps such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.
“It used to be that the media landscape had a centre, what we now call legacy news organizations,” Greenberg said. “But increasingly, we get news from not only those sources but also dubious actors. Everyone is a news organization now.”
These apps convey relatively little information and context per message, but ideas can take root quickly, he said. Greenberg and his co-researchers found survey respondents who believed conspiracies were more likely to share news or opinion about COVID-19 on social media.
Greenberg said the most widely believed COVID-19 theory in Canada was a “widely discredited conspiracy theory that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was engineered as a bioweapon in a Chinese lab and released into the general population.”
As Global News has reported, a previous Canadian study found a similar theory claiming that a United States bioweapon caused the novel coronavirus was evidently disseminated by People’s Republic of China diplomats, who used Twitter to amplify the theory from a Canadian website linked to Russian propaganda. Neither theory has any conclusive proof.
[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]
Most experts say it is likely the virus came from a Wuhan wet market. But in a recent interview with Global News, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, did not rule out a lab accident in Wuhan.
“You know that is a very serious question for the scientists to answer. And all the available evidence now suggests the virus itself is not manmade, it comes from nature,” he said. “And for us, we should let the scientists to answer that question rather than to hear from some politicians.”
In an interview, Greenberg said another surprising finding for the Carleton researchers was that 11 per cent of Canadians believe COVID-19 isn’t a serious illness but is being spread “to cover up harmful health effects associated with exposure to 5G wireless technology.”
As Global News has reported, these theories generally argue that radiation from 5G technology has a damaging impact on the human immune system.
“To be clear, 5G technology is in no conceivable way connected to the spread of COVID-19,” Ryan Foreman of the CSE, Canada’s cybersecurity agency, told Global News. The CSE is monitoring the spread of disinformation and scams related to COVID-19.