Conspiracy theories often arise after traumatic events that make people feel like they don't have full control of their lives.
A Covid-denying group called Stand Up Bristol opposed lockdown and mandatory vaccines. They shared unfounded conspiracy theories on social media and at anti lockdown rallies. They encouraged businesses to open despite Covid guidelines, and claimed the virus is a hoax, an attempt by the powerful to 'gain control'. Some people believed the government was misleading the public about the cause.
Other theories linked Coronavirus to 5G, or believed the vaccine was a plot by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to microchip people.
Professor Stephen Lewandowsky, a cognitive psychology expert at University of Bristol said: 'The availability of social media and the internet has made it easier to spread these things. When you add to that the political situation and polarisation, boom – you’ve got this toxic combination of circumstances.'
'It is an ironic psychological process that if you can blame specific people for things that go wrong in the world, it gives you greater comfort, though this isn’t the case for everyone. People like having enemies, which to me sounds strange, but for some people it reduces uncertainty. The moment you can blame someone, you can imagine the world would be a better place if you got rid of these bad people. That, for some people, is easier to accept than random events.'