To What Extent Have Conspiracy Theories Undermined COVID-19: Strategic Narratives?

Kenneth Graham Drinkwater, Neil Dagnall, Andrew Denovan, R. Stephen Walsh

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Noting the emergence of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and acknowledging the role that official messages play in countering the spread of the virus, this article considers the extent to which conspiracies have undermined strategic narratives during the pandemic. Globally, coronavirus infection has produced widespread concern about attendant physical and psychological welfare (World Health Organization, 2020). The emergence of multiple conspiracy theories accompanied attempts to comprehend the implications of the ensuing epidemic (Georgiou et al., 2020). These, consistent with archetypal conspiratorial thinking (e.g., Denovan et al., 2020), explain COVID-19 in terms of clandestine plots, enacted by powerful actors, to achieve malevolent goals (Sibley et al., 2020). Prominent examples include claims that COVID-19 was engineered in a laboratory as a bioweapon (Lewis, 2020), and that vaccination is a pretext to implant tracking microchips into populations (Huddleston, 2021, January 12).

Endorsement of conspiracy theories occurs when individuals perceive official narratives as deficient, or an event has no conclusive explanation (Dagnall et al., 2017). A further key feature of conspiracy theories is that despite lacking a robust empirical basis, they typically cite supporting scientific evidence (Drinkwater et al., 2018). This provides an “illusion” of credibility, and in part, explains why people often wrongly perceive conspiracies as valid alternatives to mainstream explanations (Drinkwater et al., 2020). This was demonstrated in the United States by the QAnon meta-conspiracy theory (Amarasingam and Argentino, 2020). QAnon encapsulates a range of smaller conspiracies that thematically represent the notion that during his presidency there was a deep state, series of secret/unauthorized networks operating in pursuit of their own agenda and goals, which actively undermined Donald Trump. Pertinent to the COVID-19 pandemic, QAnon encouraged resistance to public health messages (Hannah, 2021; Sturgill, 2021).
Original languageEnglish
Article number576198
Number of pages5
JournalFrontiers in Communication
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


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