Conspiracy theories thrive where there is an information gap


    WHEN I read the news reports about a 60-year-old American infected with novel coronavirus who died in Wuhan, China last Feb. 6, my first thought was: This debunks the conspiracy theory going around that the fast-spreading virus that has infected 34,598 and killed 724 as of Feb. 8, according to the World Health Organization website, is directed exclusively against the Han Chinese.”

    But then, the confirmation of the death by the US Embassy in China did not give details “out of respect for the family’s privacy.” It said nothing about the gender and ethnicity of the victim.

    A CNN report, however, said, “the Chinese government offered condolences for the death of ‘a Chinese -American.’”

    Being talked about in private conversations is the mind-boggling conspiracy theory that the 2019 n-CoV, which has been declared by WHO a public health emergency, targets specifically the Han Chinese, who comprise 91 percent of China’s population and 19 percent of the global population.

    Why are Han Chinese being targeted? That’s the danger with conspiracy theories. It feeds the human need to fill the information vacuum about important happenings that affect them but not necessarily with the truth.

    Usually, conspiracy theories have plausible scenarios. Like the fact that all those that have been infected by the virus, even cases in Germany, France, Australia, are Chinese or of Chinese descent. But they do not present the whole picture.

    They confuse rather than clarify. Propagated in platforms like YouTube and Facebook, they appeal to many because, as Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III described the video he presented during a Senate hearing, they are “very interesting, if not revealing.”

    The video, which contained unverified claims, was about “biowarfare being waged against China.”

    Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. resorted to sarcasm in reacting to the conspiracy theory advanced by the video Sotto presented. “Clever,” he said and added his own outrageous theory:”Maybe the plan is for China to create a virus so strong they will first test it on themselves, and when they are all dead, they will spread it to other countries.”

    Conspiracy theories are a form of disinformation. They thrive where there is an information gap. In some cases, they are purposely done to cover up something. In other cases, they are produced for commercial purposes.

    The victims are the public.