I believe the biggest challenge we have right now is not the pandemic itself. If people opted to care about each other and recognize that working together was good, we could stifle the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and lives would be saved. If you look at the IHME model which predicts 415,000 deaths by January 1st, we could decrease the total deaths to 298,000 with universal masking. If the mandates keep easing, like Nebraska did today, then we could see over 610,000 deaths by the new year. That is three times the deaths we have now.
I have written several times about the infodemic that is contributing to the dangers of the pandemic. I also wrote about cults in August, because I had a dear friend who was in one. Today I was overwhelmed with both concerns. The evidence shows that many people are making decisions based on cult like beliefs that the coronavirus is fake, masks are just mind control, and Antifa is out to get everyone and is setting the fires in the west. Fear is the dominant emotion.
The rumors about Antifa, in the past few days, spread faster than the fires themselves. Sheriff’s offices and the FBI had to get involved to be debunk the rumors. The citizens had been primed by their social media, contacts, television, pastor, or radio, to believe that Antifa and BLM protestors are thugs, setting the fires and looting. Sadly, emergency dispatchers were over run with calls and some locals are refusing to evacuate a dangerous situation because of fear of looting and arson. Sheriffs’ offices and the FBI had to work hard to tell the believers to stand down.
This disinformation campaign is spread in interesting ways. This Seattle Times article shows how the rumor that occurred last week about COVID-19 killing only 9,000 people went viral. It quickly went viral after being picked up by QAnon supporters and ultimately the President. The message was grabbed by many COVID-19 deniers as proof, but it is easily debunked. Another site, LeadStories, works to debunk rumors and analyze why the rumor spread so quickly. The analysis is interesting.
This is not just a problem with people on the right. People on the left make the same mistakes. Rebecca Solnit, a respected journalist, wrote about viral rumors regarding the post office. The claims were wrong. She shows how the use of social media to spread rumors and conspiracies can backfire. This is an eye opening article because we all have confirmation bias and want to believe what confirms that bias.
Vetting is key. We need to think before we share. All of us. I have invested in an app called NewsGuard that lets me know when a site is reliable. This New York Times article talks about vetting stories as well. Some sites such as Poynter and SeniorPlanet have classes to help us discern. It appears the that older people are more susceptible so helping them learn can help them make healthier decisions.
I don’t have an answer of how to help people who have fallen deep into the well of conspiracy theories and rumors. Others are seeking how to help but it is not clear yet what the answer is. What we can do is keep clear about our own sources and knowledge, so we can counter them and protect ourselves, and so we don’t get pulled down the conspiracy well with them. That can happen easier than you think. Check your sources before sharing, even mine or others you trust. Remember, as Steve Goodman sang, “ you only fall for lies and stories when you really want to”
Wash your hands- still important, cover your nose, keep safe six, and check your biases.
And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.
*Steve Goodman in Turnpike Tom
“There ain't nothin' but fools gold here inside Oh, the real gold, that's inside us all Remember that you only fall for Lies and stories when you really want to”
(Thanks, Jamie, for the quote)