The Theory Behind Conspiracies

Comment from Peter Saxon

Last week, the federal government released the COVIDsafe app. At time of writing, over four million people, or roughly 15% of Australians, have downloaded it. Although the rate of uptake, so far, has surpassed expectations it is still well below the 40 – 50 per cent or more that authorities say is needed for it to be effective.

The concept behind the app is simple. With the app running in the background, it will tag other users who come within 1.5 metres of you for 15 minutes or more. And if, within 21 days, any of those people are tested and found to be positive to COVID-19, you’ll be contacted and urged to get tested yourself.

Most people, it seems, are willing to go with the PM when he says that the more people that download the app the quicker we can get back to work, get the economy going and start socialising again. And all the radio commentary I’ve heard this week is strongly suggesting listeners to follow the PM’s advice and download the COVIDsafe app too.

But not everyone agrees, as illustrated by these two comments from a article on the subject…

Of course, you can’t please everyone. There are people who instinctively resist anything proposed by government and those who will do the opposite to anything they perceive to be popular with the masses – main stream media, in particular.

The main objection to the app has centred around privacy concerns but as all the technology experts I’ve heard have said, this app has been designed to be as private as any app can be – much more so than the likes of Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any one of dozens of social media outlets, 

In normal times competing ideas in competitive media is the hallmark of a healthy democracy. But at times like these, whether war or pestilence, unity of purpose is paramount.

In my opinion, more than anything, the unity shown by most commentators on radio, TV and print/online together with our politicians is responsible for Australia “flattening the curve” more effectively than most other countries. Sure, it helps that we are a nation/continent girt by sea but the Prime Minister’s personal approval rating of 68% (according to the latest Newspoll) is a testament to his non-partisan leadership through this crisis. 

Yet all that unity only serves to energise the contrarians such as the anti-vaxxers who believe that the coronavirus is a “plandemic” organised by Big Pharma.

It’d be funny as a Monty Python sketch: “Apart from eliminating small pox, leprosy and whooping cough and getting rid of measles, mumps and chicken pox, not to mention polio, tuberculosis, cholera and tetanus, what have vaccines done for us lately?”

But it’s not at all funny when this vile group spreads their misinformation and puts lives at risk as they undermine the herd immunity that keeps all these deadly diseases at bay.

Recently, they even wrote to all parliamentarians trying to convince them that the flu vaccine would increase the chance of of people contracting the coronavirus. Happily none took the bait.

Last month, another conspiracy theory about COVID-19 reached my inbox.

It was forwarded to me by long time friends whom I respect for both their grace and intelligence. Yet, they were inclined to give it credence.

This particular theory came out of the woodwork early in the piece and much of it can be now debunked in hindsight. It was a long and sometimes repetitive document – the following extract is at its heart.


1. Create a virus and the antidote.

2. Spread the virus.

3. A demonstration of efficiency, building hospitals in a few days. After all, you were already prepared, with the projects, ordering the equipment, hiring the labour, the water and sewage network, the prefabricated building materials and stocked in an impressive volume.

4. Cause chaos in the world, starting with Europe.

5. Quickly plaster the economy of dozens of countries.

6. Stop production lines in factories in other countries.

7. Cause stock markets to fall and buy companies at a bargain price.

8. Quickly control the epidemic in your country. After all, you were already prepared.

9. Lower the price of commodities, including the price of oil you buy on a large scale.

10. Get back to producing quickly while the world is at a standstill. Buy what you negotiated cheaply in the crisis and sell more expensive what is lacking in countries that have paralyzed their industries.

It reads like a briefing that M might give James Bond at the beginning of his next adventure film. It sounds like a Bond plot because it is. According to a counter-theory, that’s also circulating, it’s the synopsis for a rejected Bond script called, believe it or not, Pandemic.

But are either of these theories true? Yes, if you want to believe one – or both if you’re that way inclined. But the evidence to date doesn’t support either.

Let’s take the second one first. The Bond script is easier to debunk because I know for an absolute fact that I just made it up. Still, if I released it on social media, it would likely get some traction. It could even go, dare I say, viral.


The other theory has more substance but some of the causes and effects, outlined above, are simplistic and improbable.

For example, 7: “Cause stock markets to fall and buy companies at a bargain price.” 

Firstly, Chinese markets did crash like most markets in other parts of the world. 

Secondly, “Buying companies at a bargain price” is not as easy as it sounds – at least, not for a foreign power. As the Australian government has already shown, under existing laws, it can step in and block the sale of Australian companies, such as QANTAS to overseas interests. They can also stop, say, a Chinese company such as Huwai from participating in sensitive infrastructure such as our 5G network. 

And if push comes to shove, governments can also nationalise private companies if they see them as a threat to national security. The Chinese themselves are notably adept at doing just that with private companies that were founded by foreigners.

This particular conspiracy theory, which has several mutations, was circulated fairly early in the piece when many of the facts about the virus were still unknown. As Winston Churchill famously said, “A lie travels half-way around the world before the truth gets it’s trousers on.”

Here are some other “facts” from the “theory.” For the purpose of authenticity, we have not corrected the spelling, grammar or punctuation.

The corona Virus travelled entire world from Wuhan but it did not reach Beijing and Shanghai… (can anybody put any light on this?)

Yes, we can. It is False: According to the SMH and the Age world COVID-9 map, at time of writing Shanghai had a reported 652 cases, 7 deaths with 599 recovered. Beijing reported 593 cases, 9 deaths and 547 recovered.

How come Russia & North Korea are totally free of Covid- 19? Because they are staunch ally of China. Not a single case reported from this 2 countries.

At time of writing the COVID-9 map shows Russia as having recorded 106,498 cases. 1,073 deaths and 11,619 recoveries. 

As the world’s most secretive nation, North Korea would be the last place that would admit to a virus that Kim Jong-un couldn’t contain. 

Nonetheless, all good conspiracy theories, like April Fool’s stories are based on some truths. 

Most observers believe that the numbers out of China are grossly under-reported and accuse it of a major cover-up. That’s true and it is no secret that China has ambitions to surpass the US as the world’s greatest economic powerhouse, but that doesn’t prove that China was deliberately spreading the virus in its quest for world domination.

The long term statistics on such cover-ups when it’s a question of conspiracy versus cock up, lean heavily towards cock up. The more likely reason for coverups is simple, no government wants to be shown to be incompetent, especially when thousands of lives may have been lost as a result. The Russians were not immediately forthcoming about Chernobyl either. For that matter, neither was the Ruby Princess. The difference is, of course, that they, along with the NSW health department must cooperate with a police investigation while China strongly resists any scrutiny. 

There’s general agreement among experts that the virus is not man-made and came from the Wuhan wet markets borne by exotic animals sold for human consumption. Again, the Chinese don’t want outside interference and be seen to bow to pressure from the west to close down the wet markets that they consider to be part of their culture. 

Nonetheless, as Shari Markson’s excellent article (subscription) in Saturday’s Telegraph revealed, US intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility that the virus accidentally “leaked” out of a Wuhan laboratory.

Ms Markson writes: Scientific consensus is that the virus came from a wetmarket. But the US’s top spy agency confirmed on the record for the first time yesterday that the US intelligence committee is investigating whether COVID-19 was the result of an accident at a Wuhan laboratory.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence acting director Richard Grenell said the virus was not created in a laboratory.

“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to US policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China,” he said.

“The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”  

With the recent spike in listenership since social distancing laws have been put in place, radio has been doing an exceptional job in regaining and building on its position of trust as a main news source. As with the bushfires, radio has gone out of its way to find the good news among the tragedy. 

It has helped rally its listeners to believe that as Australians, we can deal with the hardship because we really are “all in this together.”

Peter Saxon

Subscribe to the radioinfo daily flash briefing podcast on these platforms: Acast, Apple iTunes Podcasts, Podtail, Spotify, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Ask Alexa: ‘Alexa, play radioinfo flash briefing’ or ask Google Home: “Hey Google. Play the latest Radioinfo flash briefing podcast.”

  Post your job, make sure you are logged in.