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Society

Misinformation, masks, and conspiracy theories

Misinformation is rampant today, especially around the Covid 19 pandemic. And it poses a problem for our society, although it is impossible to quantify the magnitude of the problem.

The wide range of social media platforms makes it easy to disseminate misinformation, conspiracy theories, hate filled views, and downright lies. To what extent the people involved actually believe the falsehoods and to what extent these people are simply deluded or ignorant is difficult to figure out, too.

You only have to take a look at some of the comments on my YouTube channel to see what I am talking about. The videos that have generated the most misinformation, intentional or mistaken, are the videos I did about Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters going to the High Court, the one about the black lives matter movement and Martin Luther King’s letter from the jail in Birmingham, Alabama, one about the soiling and besmirching of the tricolour at right wing, anti mask/anti restrictions protests and the video about the obvious ironies of Van Morrision now writing protest songs.

Some of the stuff thrown out there by commenters claim the Covid 19 pandemic is a hoax and some type of method by which people can be controlled and subject to some form of tyranny. By who? By the World Health Organisation, by the government, by fianna Fail/Fine Gael-take your pick, there is no limit to the groundless speculation and claims.

Others complain that Van Morrison’s opposition to taking safety precautions and the adherence to medical advice strikes a blow for

“freedom and seeing the fascism that’s taking shape around the world”.

Further misinformation is the claim that there is

“not one shred, one iota of scientific evidence that masks are going to prevent the spread of a virus that is little more lethal than the flu”

and

“both the CDC and the Italians have come out and revised their numbers of purely of purely Covid related deaths by over 90%. It’s just a flu that the government’s of the world are using to restrict your freedoms. Even Van gets it, when will the rest of you wake up to the fact? The vaccine they’re preparing will change your DNA also, look it up.”

Then there is the claim that

“some can’t see the tyranny that is so close”, “Wake up Ireland, your rights are being trampled over by our fake news,  and the scamdemic”, “We are on the verge of the greatest human disaster ever, with up to 6 billion scheduled to die from the vaccine to further their depopulation agenda.”

With regard to Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters going to the High Court to seek an order that the Irish state was acting unconstitutionally in introducing measures to restrict the spread of Covid 19 we have comments to the effect that the Courts are biased against them, biased against the truth, and so forth.

In fact the difficulty that O’Doherty and Waters faced in the High Court-a complete absence of evidence to support the assertions that were being made- was conveniently overlooked by supporters of the pair’s view.

“I would certainly say they have huge amount of facts and evidence which would have been heard if the case had been heard, also must be noted that Donnelly brought in an expert Professor from Oxford on the effectiveness of masks, but chose not to come to hear the Professor reveal his findings of the uselessness of mask wearing and the dangers, all paid for by the tax payer.”

The solution

There is no simple or obvious solution to the problem but education must feature largely in any response that might have a chance of success. Education from an early age in the tools of reason, argument, the need for evidence or some rational basis for forming and holding an opinion, the importance of data, counter arguments, and so on.

The problem is likely to worsen as the skills of those wishing to disseminate misinformation improve with the regular exposure to a growing number of platforms. The emboldening of those who hold extreme views by the success of certain populist politicians is also a significant and malign factor in the growth of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

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