Misinformation can spread like wildfire without proper fact checking, especially in a time of panic. From conspiracy theories to just plan odd beliefs, COVID-19 has sparked the imagination of the world. Just as the outbreak began to spread with limited information on where it came from and what we could do to prevent it, so too did the theories of how it started.
Not only is the virus a great case study for the importance of implementing communications and public relations plans quickly and truthfully in a time of crisis; it’s also a great window into just how far down the rabbit hole our imaginations can take us without information, according to stats from trends data provider SEMrush.
One of the first conspiracies to develop as a result of COVID-19 (and its original lack of information) was that the virus was part of a Chinese biological weapons program, based at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This theory had 3,000 average searches in Canada in March, but thankfully decreased by 57% in April. This likely thanks to the scientific evidence that refuted the concept, stating that the virus had natural origins.
5G Technology Side-Effect
Another early conspiracy theory was related to a hot topic in Chinese-Canadian relations, specifically with regards to ongoing talks about the introduction of 5G technology. With an estimated 104% increase in searches in April related to “coronavirus 5G,” the theory points to reports about Wuhan installing 5G cellphone towers that used a millimeter wave spectrum to release the virus, supporting claims that 5G is harmful to human health.
With government shutdowns and recommendations to stay indoors at all times to help prevent the spread of the virus, some Canadians were quick to jump to a 1984 scenario, blaming the “supposed virus” on a flock of government-owned robot surveillance birds that needed their batteries replaced. The idea likely originated from a 44-year-old organization in American called “Birds Aren’t Real,” but the theory was expected to have a 59% increase in average search volume in April.
End of the World
Canada saw a 309% increase in searches for “the end of the world” in March 2020, showing just how panicked people can become in a time of crisis. The good news is that this volume had a projected decrease by 40% in April, suggesting that people may becoming more optimistic that things will turn around… though the sighting of Asian Giant Hornets, aptly dubbed “murder hornets,” in North America may turn this number around again.
Sunshine as a Cure
With an average of 6,600 searches in March around “coronavirus and sun,” it seems several Canadians believe that the heat and sunshine might slow the virus, likely due to a theory that stemmed from the White House. These searches are projected to decrease, as the theory has only yielded very uncertain results to date – we need more information to prove this is true.
Smoking as a Cure
A recent study from French researchers saying that smokers are “four times less likely” to contract COVID-19 has Canadians searching more for “coronavirus and nicotine,” with a projected 104% increase in April, along with a 30% increase in searches related to “buy cigarettes” between April 19 and 24. Despite the health issues associated with smoking, it seems that this news may be leading to more people picking up smoking to keep themselves from becoming sick.
Though proper communication has now been relayed and facts have been confirmed, it seems some Canadians are still curious about the origins of COVID-19. An average of 18,900 searches in March 2020 related to “coronavirus and Simpsons,” to see if the TV show had predicted the outbreak, as it has ‘predicted’ so many other global events.
Though no one can predict what crisis may happen next, it’s important to remember that communications and public relations plans require quick, factual responses in order to keep people accurately informed. If not, imaginations may run wild, and your brand may need to dig itself out of an even greater crisis or misconception.