Until early this year, I was part of a huge Facebook group called Stop Mandatory Vaccinations. This had previously been a useful source of thousands of scientific papers and publications examining the risks and benefits of vaccinations. The general consensus was, vaccinations, like any health intervention, have their place, but can have significant (even deadly) side effects for some people, so therefore should not be forced or mandatory. There was a big difference between "stop vaccinations" and "stop MANDATORY vaccination".
Now for any one reading this who might think I have a screw loose for even considering not vaccinating my precious children, consider - if I hadn't been part of that group, out of interest in rigorous scientific examination of this complex issue, I wouldn't have been witness to what happened next.
Late in 2019 and during early 2020 I noticed more posts popping up in the group that had less to do with health and quite a lot more to do with partisan politics. Trump-ists are like annoying mosquitos all over social media, and (as a non-American), you tend to just swat them away and press on regardless.
But as news of a novel coronavirus and eventual global pandemic began to filter through, in February and March, there were more posts not just about politics, but about conspiracy theories. Measured discussion on vaccinations became lost to breathless posts reporting the latest Q "breadcrumb" as we were told "it's happening!" and "wait for the Storm!" We learned that Oprah's house had been cordoned off any that she was finally under arrest for the tunnels under her house funnelling poor brown children from South America (presumably under the ocean?) We saw photos of crime scene tape around her house, which was "proof". We then learned that Tom Hanks stint in a Gold Coast hospital was actually a cover for his arrest for paedophilia. (As an Australian that was a bit irritating, because it implied that our country's news reporters are either a bunch of liars or a bunch of gullible twats.) We were told that Trump was "on our side" and only pretending to go along with vaccinations until such time as he could "bring down Big Pharma".
It takes all sorts, I thought, and continued to scroll past any posts that seemed a little cray-cray. But increasingly, such posts were swamping the group and drowning out the previous sensible and measured discussions we had enjoyed previously. And the posters did not take kindly to any voices of dissent or caution. You either 'Loved Trump' and 'Believed Q' or you were, pretty much, Satan.
And for anyone, anywhere, who's ever been part of a cult, or part of fundamentalism, be it Christian, Islamic, Judaic, Communist, Fascists, or otherwise .. red flags began waving.
But the disinformation kept coming. Whenever humans are under stress, dealing with an "unprecedented" situation and with "novel" virus that NO ONE has definitive answers about yet, disinformation spreads rapidly. Balanced, tested, and peer-reviewed info isn't as salacious and doesn't spread as fast as every alarmist post about 5G or the virus lab in Wuhan or Bill Gates or the take-down of "the Cabal"
As a qualified herbalist, I started seeing posts in the group warning that Elderberry Syrup could cause cytokine storm in COVID19. I'm hesitant to wade in on things I don't know much about, but this is my lane. I make Elderberry Syrup. I've read scores of monographs. I understand the inflammatory cascade. So I began posting what I hoped would be helpful and moderating commentary from reputable herbalists such as Dr Kerry Bone and Aviva Romm. What I then experienced is that the people gobbling up the Q breadcrumbs and re-sharing questionable memes appeared not to be so keen on reading 17 pages of careful scholarship. It just doesn't provide quite the same buzz.
But then, the Coronavirus disinformation started. Post after post claiming that it wasn't real, it was deliberately manufactured and released, it was fake, it was a Plandemic, there were no deaths, the hospitals were empty, the government (what - all governments?) were lying. And every action that any government took anywhere were all just a ploy to wreck American capitalism and usher in "Communism".
People started leaving. They posted, "This used to be a great group for actually learning about vaccination risks, but never mind MAGA caps - you guys are all going for the tin-foil hats!" And the response would be "Buh-bye!" amid a flurry of memes.
In one post, I mildly suggested that if USA had universal health care such as we enjoy in other developed countries, maybe people wouldn't have to pay $3000 for a Coronavirus test. Response? "Go grow vegetables in Venezuela then, you Commie!"
At this point, I realised that the tone of the group had changed from valid health concerns to an extremist political agenda.
When people started posting that wearing masks is really just a ploy to end free speech and a symbol of being "trauma bonded to authoritarian governments" like a bunch of bonneted handmaids, and how ignoring physical distancing policies were a matter of patriotic duty - at the same time that doctors and nurses were beginning to experience first hand just how deadly and insidious the virus could be, I left. In early March, I warned that their stance of believing conspiracy theories, and ignoring health policies, sowing division and spreading disinformation, would take a horrible toll in USA.
In pure frustration, I posted: "Your individualism, exceptionalism, denialism and entitlement is going to get thousands of you killed. You deserve yourselves."
And I hoped that I would be proved WRONG.
Life was comparatively peaceful after leaving that group, and concentrating on measures at home to keep the family safe and thriving through physical distancing measures in our own country. I already worked from home anyway and we like having the kids at home, so we weren't impacted too negatively.
But then, in the same way as I saw right-wing extremism take over that one Facebook group, I began to see the same "swarming" effect of making dis--information go viral happening across social media platforms.
To my horror, I started to see quite mainstream, thoughtful and intelligent people falling prey to the disinformation social media "bombing" campaign on social media.
And I have seen all this before. It's all too familiar. Anyone who has ever come out of a cult or any shade of religious or political fundamentalism recognizes these dynamics.
So I thought I should start researching to find out more about what on earth was going on.
I will try to put together all the pieces of the puzzle so you can understand WHY I am so concerned, and WHY I am bothering to speak out, instead of just calmly going on my way and letting people believe whatever they want to believe. Because they're not. They're not believing what they want to believe. They're being indoctrinated. And it's been going on for decades. This is a divide and conquer strategy not only by the alt/far right and their particular agenda, but possibly, even the work of Russian operatives who know how to exploit the deep divisions in American society for their own de-stabilization aims.
Before you dismiss ME as being the tin-foil-hatted conspiracy theorist, please read carefully these disinformation briefings from the ISD - the Institute for Strategic Dialogue - "Powering solutions to extremism and polarization".
For anyone sincerely trying to reconcile valid concerns about corporate monopoly and capitalist excess, while trying to sift through various alternative narratives and apparent conspiracy theories, I encourage you to at least scan and take into consideration the careful scholarship and commentary of the ISD.
COVID19 Disinformation Briefing 1
COVID19 Disinformation Briefing 2
COVID19 Disinformation Briefing 3
COVID19 Disinformation Briefing 4
OK. You have done very well to read this far. This is already heaps long. So now, I will divide the rest into chapters.
1. The Conservative Culture War - the agenda of the religious right in America and the influence of fundamentalism - how it went beyond warping Christianity (similar to what happened within Islam) to shaping culture and steering politics
2. Russian Trolls - how Russian operatives have exploited ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and divisions within American society for their own de-stabilization aims
3. Conspiracy Theories - fundamentalism has a long history with conspiracy theories but the game has stepped up exponentially with the uncertainty around coronavirus. Just as Islamist fundamentalists exploited insecurity and fear during the Ebola pandemic.
4. Qanon. Not about saving children from evil pedophiles. Who knew?
5. The "Liberate" grassroots (not) movement and the "Boogaloo" - inciting a civil war to create an excuse for the penis-extension-wagglers to kill lots of black & brown people
6. 5G - the agenda behind this classic deflection & disinformation tactic
7. Going after the 'New Age', alternative health community - the targeting of the alternative left by the alt/far right = Alt/Light: when delusion comes full circle.
8. Out of Shadows
9. The Trump Administration and the Far Right - how did such a dissolute pervert become the poster child for right-wing morality? They created him in their own image.
10. Is it actually about catching evil paedophiles? - the latest ploy to tug the heartstrings of any reasonable person of conscience, for a political grist, while projecting away from actual crimes within Christian patriarchy.
Prominent Conservative Christian Leaders charged with sexual assault. #notjustcatholicpriests #churchtoo
11. One World Order- getting you so worried about global authoritarianism that you won't notice the authoritarianism of right-wing patriarchy. These guys won't save you from patriarchy.
12. Unmasking the case for MASKS - yet another issue hi-jacked for political grist
13. The White Coat Summit at Capital Hill. Lots of white coats. Lots of agenda. Guess who!!?
14. Coronavirus facts - so far. Plain commonsense truth. Not 'Truther'-truth.
Watch this space. This won't be the last crazy between now the the November elections. They plan to swamp you until you're so confused and punch-drunk, you don't know which way is up.
In particular, I warn women: these guys will promise the world, but deliver Gilead (reference to The Handmaid's Tale).
Like, don't look to the Nazi party to get decent roads built.
It is becoming a tale of Spies, Lies and Videotape - well, YouTube videos, at least ...
Misinformation is a Threat to Democracy in the Developing World