One in five Brits believe anti-Semitic virus conspiracies — survey

One in five Brits believe anti-Semitic virus conspiracies — survey

Researchers find most in Britain believe they are being misled by officials, drawing link to difficulty convincing public to follow distancing guidelines

A cyclist passes graffiti in London on Monday, April 13, 2020. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A cyclist passes graffiti in London on Monday, April 13, 2020. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Almost 20 percent of adults in England believe that Jews created the coronavirus for financial gain, according to research conducted by clinical psychologists at Oxford University.

The study also found that 60% of adults believe to some extent that the British government is misleading the UK public about the cause of the virus; 40% believe to some extent the spread of the virus is a deliberate attempt by powerful people to gain control; and 20% believe to some extent that the virus is a hoax.

Groups tracking anti-Semitism have pointed to an increase in anti-Jewish incidents and sentiments around the world since the pandemic struck, with Jews being blamed for creating the virus or trying to profit off of it, among other conspiracies.

Participants in the survey were asked to what extent they agreed with the statement: “Jews have created the virus to collapse the economy for financial gain.” According to the survey, 80.8% said they do not agree, 5.3% said they agree a little, 6.8% said they agree moderately, 4.6% said they agree a lot, while 2.4% said they agree completely.

The figures were almost identical when respondents were asked whether they agreed with the statement, “Muslims are spreading the virus as an attack on Western values.”

People wear face masks as they sit on the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus, in London, March 13, 2020 (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

When asked whether they agreed to the statement, “Coronavirus is a bioweapon developed by China to destroy the West,” just over 45% agreed to some extent.

Almost 30% agreed to some extent with the statement, “The WHO already has a vaccine and are withholding it.”

Just over 20% agreed to some extent with the statement, “Bill Gates has created the virus in order to reduce the world population,” while over 26% agreed to some extent with the statement: “Politicians (e.g. Boris Johnson) have faked having coronavirus.”

The  Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes and Narratives Survey polled 2,500 adults from May 4 to May 11.

Researchers said the results indicate that half of the nation is excessively mistrustful and theorized this could hurt government efforts to enforce health guidelines meant to halt the spread of the virus.

“Those who believe in conspiracy theories are less likely to follow government guidance, for example, staying home, not meeting with people outside their household, or staying 2 meters apart from other people when outside,” said Oxford Prof. Daniel Freeman, who led the study. “Those who believe in conspiracy theories also say that they are less likely to accept a vaccination, take a diagnostic test, or wear a facemask.”

“The new conspiracy ideas have largely built on previous prejudices and conspiracy theories. The beliefs look to be corrosive to our necessary collective response to the crisis,” he added.

A woman is told to go home by a police officer on a motorbike to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep the park open for people observing the British government’s guidance of social distancing, only using parks for dog walking, one form of exercise a day, like a run, walk, or cycle alone or with members of the same household, on Primrose Hill in London, Sunday, April 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Britain was later than many other countries to enact social distancing guidelines and has been among the hardest-hit countries in the world. Over 37,000 people have died from the virus, second only to the US, and over 260,000 infections have been confirmed.

“In the wake of the epidemic, mistrust looks to have become mainstream,” Freeman said.

Co-researcher Dr. Sinéad Lambe said the findings showed that conspiracy thinking is not isolated to the fringes of society and likely reflect a growing distrust in the government and institutions. “Conspiracy beliefs arguably travel further and faster than ever before. Our survey indicates that people who hold such beliefs share them; social media provides a ready-made platform,” she said.

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