John Oliver explored the spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, examined what makes such outlandish claims so appealing and enlisted the help of several celebrities to stop the spread of misinformation on Last Week Tonight.
A global pandemic is the perfect kind of fodder for conspiracy theories, Oliver noted, and far from the first time a major health crisis has spawned such conjecture (there were even bubonic plague conspiracy theorists in the 14th century). Conspiracy theories, Oliver said, “help explain a chaotic, uncertain world,” and they appeal to our desire to assume that big events must have big causes. To that end, he noted, the world-shaking assassination of John F. Kennedy has spawned hundreds of conspiracy theories, while a similar, although technically “smaller” event, the failed assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, sparked none.
“One man suddenly changing the world is inconceivable,” Oliver said. “One man failing miserably isn’t remotely surprising — something, which is also incidentally, the tagline for feminism.”
The internet has also given conspiracy theories a particularly sinister sheen, with Oliver pointing to the documentary Plandemic, which uses high production values to peddle false information about COVID-19. Social media has also allowed such ideas to spread quickly, especially considering one of the biggest spreaders is President Donald Trump on Twitter.
“Conspiracies are sort of like ugly buildings and deeply tragic adult children,” Oliver cracked, “in that Donald Trump loves to unleash them into the world and then refuse to take responsibility for them ever again.”
Oliver closed by discussing ways to speak with, and potentially reach, people who do believe in conspiracy theories. Experts, he noted, say the best way isn’t to shame or overwhelm someone with evidence, but to be empathetic, meet them where they are and then nudge them toward more critical thinking. To help those conversations, Oliver commissioned a series of videos from several very trustworthy figures — including Alex Trebek, John Cena, Billy Porter, Paul Rudd and Catherine O’Hara — who recorded a selection of charming videos now available to share on TheTrueTrueTruth.com.