Monday, May 11, 2020

Wired Magazine on "Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories"

From Emma Grey Ellis' 3-27-20 Wired Magazine article entitled "Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Are a Public Health Hazard":
CONSPIRACY THEORIES WILL always circle major world events and disasters like paranoid vultures, but with the Covid-19 pandemic they have been given a feast. Since China first alerted the world to the spreading disease late last year, the coronavirus has inspired countless wild stories about its origins, its effects, its cure. That’s only natural. People always seek explanations for events too frightening to accept as random. So, as anxious snippets of misinformation warped and refracted through social media, Covid-19 became—amongst other dangerous nonsense—a byproduct of bat soup, an escaped bioweapon, and a disease treatable by Lysol, oregano oil, or, worse yet, gargling with bleach.

Coronavirus misinformation has stoked xenophobia, created relentless demand (and considerable profit) for products that are unlikely to help anyone, added considerable confusion to an already uncertain situation, and has only continued to multiply. At best, the latest crop of Covid-19 conspiracy theories are wacky bits of hogwash: Did The Simpsons predict coronavirus, or was it a thriller novel by Dean Koontz, or was it Disney’s Tangled? At worst, the misinformation has cast doubt on measures meant to protect people and has encouraged reckless, destructive behavior.

Strangest—and perhaps most medically concerning—is misinformation that suggests certain groups of people need not worry about the virus at all. For weeks, Brandi Collins-Dexter, campaign director at the civil rights nonprofit Color of Change, had been seeing a bizarre idea circulating on Twitter and among members of her family: black people, the theory goes, were completely immune to Covid-19, or would recover quickly and easily if they did contract it. To be perfectly clear, this is false. “Blue-check users were saying this and getting thousands of retweets,” Collins-Dexter says. “It’s not necessarily with mal intent, it’s rooted in a misunderstanding, but all of these things are violating Twitter’s standards at a basic level.” Twitter has since taken action against accounts spreading the theory, but the black community isn’t the only group wrongly being told not to worry. People have also claimed that Yemenite Jews are naturally immune—again with zero scientific backing.

Then there’s the virus’s disputed origins. You have likely heard some people speculate (baselessly) that Covid-19 was somehow conjured in a Wuhan lab. That theory has been popular for a long time, especially since some US media outlets and pundits have continued to call the disease the “Chinese coronavirus” or the “Wuhan virus.” As months have gone on, though, accusing a country of being the supposed origin of the novel coronavirus has become a well-used political smear.

Despite epidemiologists saying otherwise, Chinese officials are now claiming the virus originated in Italy or from a military laboratory in the United States. The latter has also been espoused by Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who cited the theory as a reason to turn down US medical aid, and by Philippines senate president Vicente Sotto. Some accuse Russia of spreading this conspiracy theory, though the Kremlin strenuously denies it. Proponents of the theory see the US as having something to gain—usually economically—from impacted nations, but the real impact is that aid and medical knowledge are flowing less freely at a time when unity and transparency would be far more beneficial.

Plenty of US citizens think the virus is a hoax or a cover for some shadowy power grab, too. FEMA has created a Coronavirus Rumor Control website, in part to quell conspiracy theories about the US heading for martial law. Others claim that the virus is a hoax, no more deadly than the common cold, but that officials are stoking panic to undermine President Trump. Not everyone names a specific boogeyman—rapper Cardi B has claimed that celebrities who have tested positive for coronavirus, like Idris Elba, are being paid to say that they have the disease by somebody for reasons—but if you have a go-to scapegoat, it’s open season.
To read the entire article, click HERE.

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