On Tuesday, Florida’s state board of education threatened to penalize school boards in Alachua and Broward counties for their strict mask mandates. On Wednesday, the boards in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties also defied the state, w/ @giuliaheyward https://t.co/B8hjv0SUHi
— Patricia Mazzei (@PatriciaMazzei) August 18, 2021
The ongoing pandemic showed us that many of us struggle to identify fake news and those who spread them.
As those of us who follow politics know, fake news existed before the pandemic. But as many of us noticed, the pandemic exposed how misinformation can actually harm our health.
Before COVID-19 hit society, we were already exposed to fraudulent health claims by folks who wanted to make a quick buck. So-called healers were offering questionable services, coaches claimed to make us superhuman beings, and parents were rejecting measles vaccinations for their children.
It’s exactly these folks who fell for those kinds of claims which are extremely in danger of buying into fake news.
The University of Groningen in the Netherlands released a study claiming that one in five people believe in fake news about the pandemic. They also tried to find out why these people bought into misinformation and came up with an interesting explanation.
According to this study, there are two factors that cause someone to fall for fake news. Folks have to be curious, which is not a bad thing at all—but if that curiosity mixes with an inability to check the reliability of sources, people are likely to buy into misinformation.
The internet is full of folks who are trying to make money. That’s probably not news to anyone, but what if I told you that conspiracy theories became a money-printing industry for shady folks who don’t care about our health at all?
Why is that?
Before the pandemic, we already saw influencers working hard to get our attention. The time we spend watching someone else’s content is what makes them money. Therefore it is not surprising that the moment we entered the first lockdowns, shady folks started wondering how to get us hooked on what they have to say.
The more outrageous claims are, the more folks will watch them—it’s simple as that.
On top of that, there is no doubt that lockdowns, wearing masks, and not being able to work are inconveniences nobody enjoys. Let’s add the desire of average folks to be smarter than others, and we have the perfect mix for conspiracy theories to become popular.
Here are five examples of this dynamic that help some folks to make a lot of money while endangering public health:
1. Masks don’t help.
The moment health officials suggested wearing masks to protect ourselves and others from an infection, some folks took their chance questioning exactly that. And, of course, everyone who didn’t like wearing masks was tempted to buy into that narrative.
Even scientists know that masks do not offer full protection against the virus, but common sense tells us that masking up can reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Unfortunately, folks like Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Greg Abbott started questioning common sense and publicly announced that they don’t believe in masks.
Countless hobby-scientists started uploading videos of pseudo-scientific nonsense that would back up everyone who decided not to wear a mask. Not necessarily because they believe that nonsense, but quite possibly because they knew that many folks would agree and watch their videos (or vote for them).
2. A healthy diet and plant-medicine protect us from COVID-19.
As we found out that especially folks with preconditions like obesity or diabetes are at a higher risk, many of my healthy yoga friends started believing that COVID-19 was no danger to them and their clients.
This created a situation where so-called spiritual leaders went down the rabbit hole of believing that sun salutations, a healthy diet, and essential oils would protect us from a deadly virus.
And again, everyone who was annoyed enough of the lockdown and curious enough to spend time listening to that nonsense helped questionable folks to make a lot of money.
3. The virus was created in a lab.
Humans tend to try blaming someone else if something goes wrong. The pandemic is no exception when it comes to that.
Remember the first time you saw images of the lockdown in China? Many of us thought that something like that could never happen in our societies—and these folks were right. Of course, we had lockdowns in the United States and Europe, but none of these lockdowns were actual lockdowns.
There might be good reasons why our governments never imposed full lockdowns as China did, but at the same time, we have to acknowledge that our strategy of soft lockdowns did not work out. But that’s not what happened. Instead, folks started blaming China to distract from our inability to deal with this pandemic.
Trump called it the “China Virus,” and anti-Asian hate started spreading within our societies. As if it was the fault of a shopkeeper in Chinatown that Karen doesn’t want to wear a mask or stay at home.
4. COVID-19 is part of a bigger agenda.
The New World Order, Bill Gates, Globalists, and many other buzzword conspiracy theories had been around for quite some time, but the pandemic enabled folks like Alex Jones to connect the dots. The only problem is that these dots he and others are connecting are already false assumptions.
But if someone already believed that our planet was governed by aliens or reptiloids, then it doesn’t take much to convince them that the pandemic is just another piece in that puzzle.
COVID-19 conspiracy theories grew on the grounds of already existing conspiracy theories.
5. It is about our freedom.
The moment mask mandates and lockdowns came into effect, folks started comparing these health measures to Nazi-Germany.
I am German, and I beg you to stop that bullsh*t. I am a quite tolerant person, but when someone compares wearing a mask or staying at home to a genocide that killed millions of people, it gets my blood boiling.
Even if someone doesn’t go that far and turns the pandemic into a conflict between Democrats and Republicans, I have a hard time taking them seriously. This is a virus and not a tax bill. There is nothing political about this.
Our freedom doesn’t depend on being allowed to put others in danger. Freedom is not a one-way street: our freedom to do what we want to do is based on the freedom not to get harmed by others.
When politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene ask their voters not to wear masks and refuse to get vaccinated, it’s not about freedom. Governor DeSantis forcing schools not to impose mask mandates is not a discussion about freedom; it’s an attempt of his to get the support of anyone who buys into that nonsense.
But what can we do to protect ourselves from buying into these narratives? How do we help friends and family not to get manipulated by politicians, influencers, and other shady folks?
Here is a simple trick: check your sources!
When Candace Owens talks about the CDC setting up camps for high-risk people, ask yourself what her intentions are. Is she promoting her new book or TV show? Did she tell the truth in the past? What’s her role in the media?
When Governor DeSantis tries to downplay the risks of COVID-19 while case numbers in his state are going through the roof, is that because he actually believes that or because he doesn’t have any other option without admitting his failure?
When “American Frontline Doctors” question vaccines and masks, are they doing that because they actually believe it or because someone is paying them a lot of money to make these claims?
The “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” claims to know how to heal COVID-19 at home and tells us not to get vaccinated—but if we take a moment and check the person behind this organization, we will find out that it is Jane M Orient. Orient also claimed in the past that AIDS does not exist and that homosexuality reduces our life expectancy.
The only way to protect ourselves from fake news is to check our sources before even reading them. As the University of Groningen found out in their study, if curiosity gets combined with an inability to verify sources, we are putting ourselves in danger buying into fake news.
And that’s why we need journalism.
The word “research” had been abused so many times during the pandemic. Let’s set this straight once and for all: research does not mean searching information on the internet that backs up our emotions.
Research means that we check our sources and search opposing views before drawing any conclusions. Spotting misinformation can be tricky, especially when we are not used to following the news and dynamics in politics.
But the moment yoga teachers find themselves on the same side as Republicans like Greene, DeSantis, and Abbott, we really have to ask ourselves what the f*ck we are doing here.