Don’t Let the Linguistic Virus of Drivelmongers Undermine the Eradication of Covid-19

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

I’ve been researching conspiracy theories since my postgraduate years at university. My first book, Beyond the End of the World, debunked a number of them — much to the fury of people who were enchanted by the notion that the world would end in 2012 and those who were so obsessed by New World Order (NWO) beliefs that it seemed they might secretly relish the idea of mass global control.

In relation to 2012 ‘apocalypse beliefs, which emerged from flaky and sloppy engagement with Mayan calendrics by new-agers and opportunistic drivelmongers, the most interesting thing for me was the spectrum of fantasies that individuals associated with the ‘end-date’. The date became a blank screen on which people projected their wildest fantasies and darkest fears.

Anybody who had researched the December 2012 date properly knew the flaws in the notion of it being an ‘end-date’. For a start, there are much bigger Mayan cycles and the one that was ending would simply start again. But it was nonetheless social scientifically interesting to see what got projected onto the date. Alien invasion, the return of Jesus, Satan’s rule, a global NWO government run by the shadowy ‘Illuminati’, which in a troubling number of fantasies happened to be associated with Jews. These were some of the more common fantasies peddled online and in books, but the breadth of visions was vast.

The reason I have mentioned the halcyon days of 2012 is to compare and contrast with conspiracy theories being peddled about Covid-19. Though the internet is used more now than it was in the years leading to 2012, with social media now a huge part of many of our lives, the breadth of conspiracy theories about Covid is narrower than those that were held about 2012.

This could in part be explained by social media’s dominance, which gets momentum behind certain narratives and helps them go viral, while others fall quickly into the digital mud. But it is also because certain conspiracy theories get backed by powerful networks and influential people. From the far-right Breitbart News to Donald Trump (who was helped into power by Breitbart and gave a job to Steve Bannon from the far-right site), from Alex Jones to David Icke. And an interminable number of bots, run by goodness knows who or what, pumping out the same dangerous drivel and using the same terms. In relation to Covid-19, we are seeing the same narratives and even the same sentences disseminated.

The core themes of the narratives are it is not as bad as scientists and politicians claim — and therefore public distancing measures should end — and there are cures available that scientists won’t talk about. Of course, like with all conspiracy theories, if you challenge them you get portrayed as part of the conspiracy. In the minds of true believers, you become the enemy.

One of the amusing and terrible things about Twitter is the malicious disinformation bots and unwitting peddlers of misinformation can be indistinguishable, in terms of content. Russian bots often have strings of numbers in their names but the words they use in tweets are routinely the same as those of the hapless people who get swept along by the lies.

Understanding medical science is hard and so we can perhaps forgive those who, through fear and ignorance, get swept along by simplistic narratives. We all want this thing to end and so there is a tendency to see hope in any flickering mirage. But understanding the difference between disinformation and misinformation is much easier than virology. Disinformation is the deliberate spreading of false information by the malicious, whereas misinformation is the dissemination of flawed ‘information’ by the poorly informed. Malicious medical disinformation campaigns can ultimately harm citizens, but they can also be used to cause conflict and disharmony in societies. The Russian state intelligence services are experts at disinformation and the public is still inexpert at avoiding unwittingly helping them.

Those driving online disinformation campaigns will be much harder to spot than those who have been duped by them. The person managing a thousand agents who each manage numerous bots won’t be filmed spouting drivel on the streets of London, where an anti-lockdown rally happened today, or Texas, Maryland or Ohio, where similar events happened recently. They don’t need to — they can manipulate people to do it for them. I have written about the US events, which Trump encouraged, elsewhere.

The repetition of narratives I’ve discussed above was very much in evidence on the streets of London today, and in a large number of related tweets. Just as they have been in those defending seasoned conspiracy theorist David Icke since he was banned from Facebook and Youtube for peddling dangerous drivel about Covid.

The website Joe sent a journalist to cover the London event today. I will post a video below some quotes from the day. For those who would like to follow up the issues I’ve raised above, I’d suggest searching on social media for the terms these individuals use. You will see them peddled ad nauseum across Twitter and Facebook. Such misleading terms become part of a societal and linguistic virus, and they discourage us from properly tackling an actual virus.

Here are some direct quotes from today, gathered by Josh Kaplan of Joe. I divide them with a few of my own comments and links that correct the misinformation.

“The mortality rate for this is less than the flu. It’s been proven. The test that they use, it has an 80% false positive. This virus has never been proven to exist.”

Everything he said is untrue. The mortality rate is much higher than influenza. The rate for Covid-19 is between 3% and 4%, compared with 0.1% for seasonal influenza. In terms of false positives, tests for those with the virus have a great degree of accuracy compared to some of the antibody tests used early on to see if people had previously had the virus. His 80% figure could come from a misleading Elon Musk tweet from March in relation to an article that was unpublished due to accuracy issues. Regardless where he got it from, it doesn’t correspond to reality.

The same person also said: “They are furthering their New World Order and their agenda. They’re installing 5G everywhere. They’ve locked us down so they can install 5G quietly. That’s gonna further their agenda.”

This makes it very clear that the speaker is driven by NWO conspiracy theories rather than science or medical concerns.

“What we are disputing is the fact that government are using the virus to cover up the fact that they are rolling out 5G, which is a war weapon, used at high frequency. If you look at radiation poisoning, the effect of that and the effect of Covid-19 fit together like a glove.”

Interesting use of the word “fact” twice here, without any hint of a fact. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the belief that 5G technology is a weapon or Covid-19 is caused by radiation poisoning. It is a virus and that is how it has spread — and it has spread in areas with no 5G. The obsession with 5G links to anti-China propaganda that Trump himself has peddled and to ignorance about technology and medicine.

“You don’t lock the world up for a virus that has a mortality rate of less than 1%. This is tyranny. Within five weeks I’ve seen my society, the world, completely change for the worse. We are being told this is the new normal. They’re trying to condition us now that we have to accept this…I think we will be living in a far worse, kind of dystopian version of Nazi Germany. And I think we’ll start to see people who we know disappear.”

As mentioned above, Covid-19 has a significantly higher mortality rate than “less than 1%”. And lockdown is the one thing that has got infection levels down. We are just starting to see a reduction in the death rate in the UK and that is because of lockdown. In relation to Nazi Germany, it was dystopian. Only a Nazi might imagine it was utopian. As for people disappearing — we are already seeing people disappear. They are dying of Covid-19 and being cremated or buried.

Will is an anthropologist, journalist and former clinician. He is the author or Veneer of Civilisation, Psychopathic Cultures and Beyond the End of the World

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