TRUST NO ONE: Introduction

Few situations highlight the need for accurate information as much as a global pandemic. Unfortunately, tumultuous times are also the times when misinformation and conspiracy…

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Chapter : TRUST NO ONE: Introduction

Few situations highlight the need for accurate information as much as a global pandemic. Unfortunately, tumultuous times are also the times when misinformation and conspiracy theories spread the fastest. Over recent weeks many dozens of phone masts across the UK have been burned or sabotaged after a conspiracy theory linked the new technology to people falling sick in covid-19. As outlandish as these ideas seem polling conducted for this report shows that 37% of the population is aware of this conspiracy theory and many have read about other alleged conspiracies related to the coronavirus. For example, 21% had read or seen social media content related to the conspiracy theory that the virus is a “depopulation” plan concocted by the UN. While not everyone believes in the theories themselves, the large amount of attention the ideas are getting is worrying and sometimes even dangerous; a mobile phone mast that served the emergency NHS Nightingale hospital in Birmingham was recently targeted by arsonists.

This report looks deeper into the British population’s belief in conspiracy theory. Based on a new segmentation defined by different views on conspiracy theory we look closer, not just at what kind of conspiracy theories people are most likely to believe in, but what unites conspiracy theorists and what sets them apart from those who are critical of conspiracy theory. While most people are likely to hold at least one conspiracy theory to be true, we find that a certain segment of the population is more prone to believe in conspiracy theory and is likely to agree with most of the conspiracy theories we query them on.

One of the fundamental aspects of conspiracy theory is mistrust. Our polling shows that the most conspiracy theory minded individuals are also those that mistrust the state and the political system the most. 86% of the group most prone to conspiracy theory also think that the political system is broken.

Even seemingly apolitical stories, such as questioning whether the moon landings took place, direct suspicion against the intention of the US government. Therefore, while there might be a desire to laugh at and attribute conspiracy to irrational thinking, it misses the point that conspiracy theories might help to contextualise an already existing distrust and that some conspiracy theories might actually feel more in-line with one’s own experience than the official story.

The role of social media in spreading conspiracy theory is however also important. In the last weeks, conspiracy theory related groups have grown significantly on Facebook, some

adding thousands of new members per day. Social media companies provide a platform

for conspiracy theorists that would not have otherwise had a large audience and have been a boon for the conspiracy propaganda. This is not inconsequential, HOPE not hate’s research has shown how 5G conspiracy theory groups can unite this seemingly quite innocuous theory based on criticism of new technology with antisemitism. Users in these groups also egg each other on to sabotage the phone masts across the country.

Solutions to the issue of conspiracy theory belief, therefore, need to counter both the ways these ideas spread and the role that social media platforms play in contributing to this spread. At the same time, we must not look at this solely as an issue of misinformation but as a larger systemic issue of trust and the feeling of being able to have a say.

Results Summary:

  • Lack of trust in the system is higher amongst those who are most prone to believe in the conspiracy theory. They are less likely to have voted in the last General Election and 86% of them say that the political system is broken.
  • The public’s exposure to conspiracy theory related to the ongoing pandemic is high. 37% have heard about the 5G conspiracy theory and almost a third of people do not dismiss it: 8% believe it to be true, while 19% are unsure.
  • 45% of the population believes that the coronavirus is a man-made creation.
  • However, amongst the groups least prone to conspiracy theories it was Islamophobic and anti-immigration conspiracy theories that were most likely to be held. 30% of this group answers ‘definitely or probably true’ on whether the government lies about how many immigrants are living in this country.
  • Anti-vaccination conspiracy theory holds a not-insignificant amount of support with 18% of the overall population agreeing that they have hidden harmful effects.
  • Worryingly, the classic antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews have undue control of the banking system is given support by 13% of the total overall population, 54% disagree and the remaining 32% neither agree nor disagree.
  • Alternative news sites have significantly higher readership among believers in conspiracy theory than the population overall. Of those who think that 5G is connected to the coronavirus, 30% said they had read one alternative news site in the last six months compared to 8% among those who don’t subscribe to the theory.
  • David Icke is the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the UK. 51% of the respondents answered that they had heard about him and 12% of those had read a text by Icke or watched one of his videos in the last six months.


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