To understand why there’s so much misinformation out there — for example, that the virus was purposely created in a lab — The Verge spoke with John Cook, a cognitive science researcher at George Mason University and one of the authors of a new Conspiracy Theory Handbook.
[Cook:] Why has the conspiracy theory about the virus being engineered in labs become so popular?
In the handbook, we talk about different conditions that make the public more vulnerable to conspiracy theories, more likely to gravitate toward them. And I think the two that are really applicable to this situation is the feeling of powerlessness and coping with threat.
[W]hen you do address conspiracy theories, do it in a way that doesn’t reinforce or promote them. Basically, inoculation is delivering misinformation in a weakened form by explaining how it can’t be true and explaining what the facts are instead. For example, with the conspiracy theory that the novel coronavirus was created in a lab, scientists have found that it has natural origins.
If your goal is to convince conspiracy theorists, then an empathetic approach is necessary just to have a genuine dialogue.