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Anatomy of Covid-19 conspiracy theories in Poland

Covid-19 pandemic is fertile soil for the spread of conspiracy theories. The fear it causes, uncertainty of the source of the virus, complexity of new mutations and fast development of vaccines – all are a fuel for authors of such theories. Such disinformation is worryingly popular in Poland. experts analysed problematic information flow on April 1-30th. As a result, 142 disinformation articles in Polish language were found, which could be considered as a covid-19 conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories account for nearly 25% of the disinformation about the coronavirus detected by Debunk EU in April in Polish language.

Research by the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun shows that at the end of 2020 as much as 34 percent of Poles believe that the coronavirus is not of natural origin, but it was created in a Chinese laboratory. Almost 1 in 10 believe that the virus is caused by 5G networks. There are some potential explanations why conspiracy theories are so popular in Poland, such as distrust in the government, which leads to distrust of health policies, statements of prominent politicians and leaders who undermine pandemic or sowed distrust in the government via claims that pandemic had been planned. Such statements are being published on some media outlets and then they are vividly shared via social media.

Narratives and sub-narratives by reach, DebunkEU data
Narratives and sub-narratives by reach, DebunkEU data

Conspiracy theories were not regularly spread through the period of analysis. The ‘problematic information’ flow although, was not a reactive one. Different conspiracy theories were spread regardless national events and did not follow national debate. At the beginning of the month conspiracy theories tended to focus on the New World Order (Great Reset) theory. Later, increase of anti-masks narratives were noted (especially stating that masks are dangerous to human health and are a tool of control people). Through the whole month, but notably more at the end of the period, anti-vaccine narratives were spread.

Detected conspiracy theories were used to spread 5 different disinformation narratives regarding coronavirus pandemic and vaccines. Almost all analysed articles (140) stated that Covid-19 pandemic was created artificially. Under this narrative, the claim that pandemic is used by political elites to control humankind was the most prevailing one. Commonly, such articles were also including anti-vaccine claims, which state that vaccine was not properly tested or that vaccines are designed to depopulate the world.

Distribution by disinformation techniques, @DebunkEU data
Distribution by disinformation techniques, @DebunkEU data

The number of falsehoods is one of those parameters that distinguish conspiracy theories from other disinformation. To present conspiracy theories technique of forgery (forged information, documents, or statements) were used more often compared to disinformation analysed in previous reports on different topics. To juxtapose, in general Covid-19 disinformation in April forgery technique was used only in less than 10% of disinformation.

The most prevailing three media outlets, and - spreading conspiracy theories are active in misleadingly presenting information on coronavirus. From the content analysis we can conclude that (almost 10% of disinformation) has spread the most complex conspiracy theory. analysts use multiple tools to deliver reports:

  • analysis platform

  • CrowdTangle - Facebook tool that tracks interactions on public content from Facebook pages and groups, verified profiles, Instagram.

  • Truly Media - collaboration platform developed to support primarily journalists in the verification of digital content.

  • TruthNest - Twitter data analysis platform.

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