John Oliver debunks coronavirus conspiracy theories on Last Week Tonight

John Oliver (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Bob Woodruff Foundation)
John Oliver (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Bob Woodruff Foundation) /

John Oliver examined the spread of conspiracy theories during the pandemic

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made the world a dangerous and unsafe place. Making things even worse has been the spread of conspiracy theories about the virus. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver examined how these theories spread and what can be done to stop them.

Last Week Tonight returned on Sunday night after a brief period off the air. John Oliver’s HBO show picked up where it left off, covering the COVID-19 pandemic from every angle imaginable. Oliver has discussed the federal government’s response, testing, the impact on sports, the risk factors for prisoners, and more.

On conspiracy theories, Oliver’s latest piece addressed a topic that has been receiving more and more attention. Recent stories have looked at how an increasing number of Republican politicians have cited or demonstrated support for QAnon conspiracy theories.

A pandemic in a society where half the people don’t trust the government and the other half don’t trust the media is the perfect breeding ground for conspiracy theories. John Oliver analyzed how this is happening and how we can determine fact from fiction:

John Oliver warned that coronavirus conspiracy theories aren’t fringe beliefs

In many cases, conspiracy theories can easily be dismissed and their followers easily ignored. The flat Earth and moon landing theories are two that John Oliver cites right off the top of the segment. But the pandemic presents a unique set of challenges because of how the virus can spread.

It only takes a small number of people to buy into the idea that COVID-19 is a hoax, doesn’t exist, or can’t be contained by wearing a mask. This immediately puts everyone around these conspiracy theorists at risk. And making matters worse is that novel coronavirus conspiracy theories are more widely believed than one would hope, says Oliver.

Oliver traces the connected history of conspiracy theories and health crises. That, along with insight on the psychology of believing these theories, is very interesting. Unfortunately, the risks to the world’s health and safety overshadow the curiosity angle of the story.

Oliver explains how the internet has made it easier to not only spread conspiracy theories but present them as legitimate. Helping some of these theories is President Donald Trump, something late night television has been exposing for years.

Last Week Tonight has always done an excellent job of shedding light on these types of issues. But the show not only identifies problems–it also offers solutions. Here, Oliver provides advice on how conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 can be identified and how the people can help one another avoid misinformation:

"The most effective way to approach someone is not by shaming them for believing something or overwhelming them with the counter evidence but to try and be empathetic, meet them where they are, and nudge them to think a bit more critically."

The show even called in some famous faces like Alex Trebek, John Cena, Billy Porter, Paul Rudd, and Catherine O’Hara to spread the message. It’s another example of Last Week Tonight taking a moral stand in addition to providing entertainment.

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What did you think of this segment from John Oliver? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Keep checking Last Night On for more from Last Week Tonight and the rest of late night television.