"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"These anti-vaccine activists operate on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, reaching more than 59 million followers."
Research from the U.S. claims that 12 people are responsible for most of the misinformation spread about Covid-19 vaccines. A report by The Center for Countering Digital Hate documents how this dirty dozen, some with medical qualifications, fostered suspicions and outright rejection of vaccines. In the process, they may have stalled efforts to counter Covid-19 by feeding on the public's gullibility.
This week, President Biden sought to blame the social media companies "They're killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated." Meanwhile, his spokeswomen claimed China and Russia are responsible for some of the misinformation. Given that it's a game all governments play, it's safe to say they are all at it, including the U.S.
The CCDH report concludes the 12 named individuals — one a Kennedy -- harnessed existing fears within communities, including along racial lines. Hence, it's argued that Black, Latino, and Native Americans suffer disproportionately high rates of Covid-19. Further, the report highlights the profound impact when people take most of their information, unverified, from social media.
After the events of 2019, this comes as no surprise to us in Hong Kong. Outright lies propagated by a few, entered the public mindset as the gospel truth; death trains and mass rapes are examples.
These anti-vaccine activists operate on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, reaching more than 59 million followers. When you then extrapolate the trickle effects into the wider community, the footprint is global. And with plenty of conspiracy theorists and Karens out there, the appeal of the dirty dozen is clear.
Here's how it works. On 19 March 2020, the website Biohackinfo.com falsely claimed that Bill Gates planned to use a Covid-19 vaccine to monitor people through an injected quantum-dot spy software. Two days later, traffic started flowing to a YouTube video on the idea. Soon it hit two million views.
Then Roger Stone — a former adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump — discussed the theory on a radio show, adding that he'd never trust a coronavirus vaccine that Gates had funded. The New York Post covered the interview but didn't debunk the notion. Then that article was liked, shared or commented on by over one million people on Facebook. That's better performance than most mainstream media news stories.
How you rein-in this activity to decide what is legitimate comment and falsehood, is fraught with challenges. With its much-vaunted First Amendment, the U.S. will struggle to tackle this issue. The same applies elsewhere. Moreover, given the deep-seated mistrust of governments in some sectors, any effort to 'police' the Internet may drive the lunatic fringe deeper underground. So, good luck with that.
We're at the point where these influencers have persuaded many not to get a free, life-saving vaccine, and those people are dying at a rate of 99-to-1 compared to the vaccinated. You could argue that this is Darwinism at work, with the dirty dozen are killing their base.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.