Representative imageNEW YORK: The coronavirus has given rise to a flood of conspiracy theories, disinformation and propaganda, eroding public trust and undermining health officials in ways that could elongate and even outlast the pandemic. Rumors of secret cures — diluted bleach, turning off your electronics, bananas — promise hope of protection from a threat that not even world leaders can escape. The belief that one is privy to forbidden knowledge offers feelings of certainty and control amid a crisis that has turned the world upside down. Rumors and patently unbelievable claims are spread by everyday people whose critical faculties have simply been overwhelmed, psychologists say, by feelings of confusion and helplessness. But many false claims are also being promoted by governments looking to hide their failures, partisan actors seeking political benefit, run-of-the-mill scammers and, in the United States , a president who has pushed unproven cures and blame-deflecting falsehoods. And it is disrupting the sweeping collective actions, like staying at home or wearing masks, needed to contain a virus that has already killed more than 79,000 people. "We’ve faced pandemics before," said Graham Brookie, who directs the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. Widely shared, Instagram posts falsely suggested that the coronavirus was planned by Bill Gates on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. In Alabama, Facebook posts falsely claimed that shadowy powers had ordered sick patients to be secretly helicoptered into the state. Over time, research finds, trading in conspiracies not only fails to satisfy our psychological needs, Douglas said, but also tends to worsen feelings of fear or helplessness.
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