According to a study in Political Psychology, "'conspiracy theories' are attempts to explain the ultimate causes of significant social and political events and circumstances with claims of secret plots by two or more powerful actors."
We got a chance to speak with Dr. Jordan Axt, a professor in the Psychology Department at McGill University, about the eruption of theories since the start of the pandemic and why they spread in the first place.
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
How and when do conspiracy theories spread — particularly ones about COVID-19?
People have felt out of control for six months now. Even the experts have said they aren't 100% what is going on and the research is changing.
But that's what happens when you conduct more and more research into a topic — you discover things you may or may not have known before.
They may change their recommendations or suggestions, but that can come across as inconsistency to someone not following things closely. Really it's just new data.
One link between releasing fake news and conspiracy theories is the desire to see the world as structured. People vary in the way that they want and need their world to be structured and consistent and feel a sense of control.
A lot of psychological research has shown that people who have a high need for structure or control over their own lives will be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories because they may not be finding this structure satisfaction in other areas.
So they lean into these theories that offer a compelling account of "secret underworkings of the world that you don't know about," rather than having to accept the world as a random place.
What harm can conspiracy theories cause?
They can become very unhealthy and very dangerous.
People can tailor their "media diet," so there's less cross-talk about what people read and consume.
It seems like the subjective notion of truth is being chipped away, so we can't even agree on the very basic things.
Pizzagate, for example, started off as this very harmless and fringe theory, but now it's led to a very dangerous situation.
Especially with COVID-19, messages are changing and studies are changing, but the ways in which we pitch the context are, too.
If you want to find evidence to say it's not that threatening, you can find the number to support that. But if you want to find the numbers to say that it is, you can find that, too.
All it takes is the motivation to find the conclusion that you want to support.
And with the proliferation of social media, it's not hard to find a site that supports what you already believe.
How do we get people to protect themselves from fake news?
Read the articles. Don't just share the headlines.
Try to expose yourself to news sources that are more reputable.
But also those that vary along your ideological slant so that you're exposed to different opinions. Then you can kind of weigh that evidence.
That goes both ways, too. The media also needs to focus less on readership and ratings and focus more on value, as well.
And this isn't something that is specific to the pandemic. We see it on all topics, all over the world.
In terms of a truly airtight answer, the science just isn't there yet.
"We, the undersigned, demand that the Government of Quebec publicly reject, as of now, the idea of a mandatory vaccination passport and that it commit itself to do like the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has done, that is to say, prohibit the obligation to present a vaccination passport in order to attend certain events and practice certain activities," the petition states.
Samson, a former Coalition Avenir Québec member who switched sides in June, held a press conference about the petition alongside Conservative Party of Quebec leader Eric Duhaime on August 12. They explained that the party had already collected 133,000 signatures on a previous petition that did not meet the criteria of the National Assembly.
"We reviewed the wording [...] So we're going to ask these hundreds of thousands of people to re-sign their petition on the National Assembly website, and we're going to invite Quebecers who don't agree with the vaccine passport to come forward as well," Samson said.
The petition, which was posted to the National Assembly website on August 12, had garnered more than 75,000 signatures at the time this article was published.
LIVE: Federal officials release updated COVID-19 modelling. Watch it here: https://t.co/9GAw2HW1Le
— Health Canada and PHAC (@Health Canada and PHAC)
"[The forecast] suggests that we are at the start of the Delta-driven fourth wave," Tam said.
However, she said the trajectory could change with rising numbers of fully vaccinated Canadians, as well as the "timing, pace and extent of reopening."
While some resurgence of the virus is expected as cities across Canada ease their public health restrictions, according to Tam, a rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases could mean that the country is reopening too quickly.
The updated modelling data showed that if Canadians increase their daily contacts with others by 25%, Canada could see at least 10,000 new cases daily by September.
Based on data from 11 provinces and territories, Tam said that from mid-December to July 12, only 0.5% of new cases were found in fully vaccinated Canadians. Unvaccinated Canadians made up 89.7% of new cases in the same time period.
In a July 29 tweet, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province is in a "better position every day" to combat the Delta variant in Quebec.
The "Winning to be Vaccinated!" contest, organized in partnership with Loto-Québec, will be split into two separate contests — one for Quebecers aged 18 and over, and one for Quebec youth between the ages of 12 and 17.
Adults Aged 18+
From August 1 to August 27, the contest will offer a weekly draw of $150,000 in cash prizes among adult participants who received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, for a total value of $600,000.
A $1 million prize for adult participants will be drawn on September 3, among fully vaccinated Quebecers over 18 years old. But there's a catch — you must have received your first dose by August 3, and your second dose by August 31.
Youth Aged 12 to 17
For Quebecers in the youth age group, from August 1 through August 27, Quebec is offering a weekly draw for two scholarships of $10,000 each among those who have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, for a total value of $80,000.
For fully-vaccinated Quebecers in the 12 to 17 age group, Quebec will draw 16 scholarships of $20,000 each on September 3, for a total value of $320,000.
Who's eligible to enter the contest
You've received a COVID-19 vaccine in Quebec
You've had a confirmed diagnosis of COVID 19 and received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
You've received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine recognized by Health Canada outside Quebec and have had the vaccine recognized by the government
You do not work for Quebec's health or finance ministries (those who do are not eligible for the competition).
Official lottery rules will be released sometime before contest registration opens, which is scheduled for July 25. Participants can register by 11:59 p.m. the day before each draw through Quebec's Vaccine Proof Portal.
The account, which amassed over 500,000 followers since its first video last December, is run by three senior citizen influencers and the Quebec government. It's part of a campaign to "encourage the youth" to get COVID-19 vaccines and it's making use of TikTok — or, as it's called in @restepepe's bio: "TicTac."