A small group of vocal individuals recently made international news by coming together to protest Victoria's coronavirus lockdown laws. Brandishing placards and chanting slogans, COVID-19 conspiracy theories were front and centre for this collective.
These narratives always involve a secretive malevolent plot by groups to conspire against humanity or to cover up the "truth" about a big event. Whether it is COVID-19 being engineered in a Chinese lab to wipe out civilisation, or governments covering up how 5G is involved in the spread of the virus, we have all seen this movie before.
The conspiracy may seem different, but these theories are like movie remakes where it's the same structure, and just the actors and sub-plots that have changed.
Today the target of our fears may be Bill Gates or an international technology company. Half a century ago during the Cold War it was the Commies who nabbed the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt in a submarine so he could defect to China. When something big happens, people search for large explanations.
The last six months have brought about a great deal of social and economic uncertainty for Australians. First the catastrophic bushfires, and now everyone is focused on the same large-scale global event. Like a Hollywood blockbuster, this pandemic provides a rich backdrop for conspiracy theories.
Psychologists understand that uncertainty, a sense of powerlessness, and heightened anxiety are associated with increased belief in conspiracy theories. Research suggests that individuals believe these narratives to satisfy basic human needs.
Some people try to regain a sense of control over their life which has been turned upside down. Others may feel special by knowing the real "truth". A target such as Bill Gates, the Chinese, or some other powerful group may help individuals feel positive about themselves and their in-group, by explaining events and having a bad guy to blame.
However, there is little evidence to suggest that conspiracy theories actually do satisfy these needs. Grasping on to an explanation does not reduce uncertainty or anxiety for people long-term.
While it is true that some conspiracies turn out to be true, such as the Nixon Watergate scandal, the vast majority will not.
Nevertheless, the erosion of trust in democracies, science, and other important societal structures caused by conspiracy theories may be long lasting.
Dr Mathew Marques is a Lecturer in Social Psychology at La Trobe University.