The 2020 was a strange year – the year of the coronavirus pandemic. Pathogen closed us at homes, where we were attacked by another virus – a disinformation virus. Not only virtual coronavirus threatened the state of our knowledge, but what else infected us in last 12 months?
Fake news is tricky – it uses our fondness for shocking news and our willingness to reach information first – especially if it is “exclusive” information which reveals “hidden truth”. It lets us also keep mental comfort, which relates to penchant for reading news, compatible with our viewpoints.
But what happens when the information does not correspond with our worldviews? Then we look for a way to escape from this uncomfortable feeling and it is extremely simple – we can always consider that that news is an effect of the censorship, worldwide conspiracy or an attempt to hide truth by certain groups of people.
There are two kinds of truth about the Covid
Locking people at homes has been harmful for everyone. What are “homo covidus” doing when they are bored? Mostly, they are focusing on reading news. However, not every news was verified and came from the trusted and reliable sources. Furthermore, the social media algorithms give us exactly these kinds of information, which are compatible with our own belief – and it is not important which kind of “truth” they represent either coronavirus sceptics or epidemic believers.
What about social media? We need to admit that social media platforms try to do something with this problem, but finally they failed. It is necessary to admit that fake news is strong weapon. It takes time to detect, check and describe fake information and this process takes time and after it nobody cares about correct information. Look at the Polish users in the social media, we can differentiate them into two different groups “Covidian” (people who support restrictions and vaccinations) and “ProEpidemicMan” (people who do not believe in pandemic). These two groups wage a real war on the Internet without mercy. In the majority of cases they use mems, pictures of unknown origin, YouTube’s movies as a weapon to strengthen information from the unknown sources.
It should be stressed that social media have been created as a virtual place to discuss and exchange different views. Therefore, it is sad that instead of real discussion based on arguments we have a primitive exchange of insults. This topic was very destructive and exacerbated social moods in the society that finding common ground could be impossible.
We should not be naïve and think that this discussion wasn’t fueled by the troll’s army. It was not a surprise that experts proved that a big part of accounts which were tweeted about the coronavirus in January 2020 were computer bots.
“Psychovirus”, “plandemic” or “global conspiracy” weren’t the only narratives we had to face Let’s check the most popular narratives in 2020 year.
Virus, virus everywhere!
Pandemic locked us at homes and what is even worse it locked us at homes with the established Internet connection. At the beginning fact-checkers needed to face the narratives about the virus as the biological weapon produced to decimate population. Then, infosphere was bombarded with information exploiting other aspects of pandemic that virus is a fake, pandemic does not exist at all and everything is just a simple lie. Fact checkers have their hands full trying to separate truth from a lie.
It is worth mentioning that conspiracy theories had appeared in Europe before virus came here and infected the Old Continent. The first false narratives repeated old stories used years ago. The authors of them initially could not decide if the virus exists or not.
Ultimately, they agree that it’s a global conspiracy to depopulate people planned by:
a) Bill Gates
b) George Soros
d) all of them and the mysterious others.
… but on the other hand, the virus has not existed because it is a PLANdemic which was invented to inject all of us with chips. Don’t you understand? Is it logical? No. The “facts” without any proofs were shared on the Internet together with real facts. Not only this combination of the false and true information was a problem for a fact checkers but also made it more difficult for mundane users to find the truth.
What is important, the shocking, interesting, and showing the next global elites scandal information was shared at the speed of light. However, nobody takes care about démenti, which comes later. And what if we believe in fake information? What if we like it, share it and what is more we send it to our friends? It is hard to admit that we were cheated. It is more comfortable to say that mysterious powers are censoring facts. More of these theories – like this that coronavirus is a biological weapon created only for Asians, fallen with the development of pandemic.
Belarus. The (almost) true story
The first protests against Lukaszenko regimes took place in May, when the government decided to exclude the opposite candidate from the presidential election. The peak of these protests was in September, when the election results were published. When the Belarusians said strongly “No”, the regime needed to find the explanation and pointed out new enemies, who wanted to overthrow government. The Belarusians selected Polish government, the European Union and Polish Catholic Church.
Who was responsible for protests? The government said that….the foreign organizations. The fake narrations informed also that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Maria Kalesnikava and Veronika Tsepkalo, were controlled by European feminists who wanted to destroy national values.
Except Polish Catholic Church also the government in Warsaw was blamed. Lukashenko regimes accused Polish authorities of planning military intervention to overthrow the Belarusian government.
5G as the attack for a civil right
5G arouses controversy, both political and medical. Implementation of this new technology has evoked a lot of emotions and concerned many people about the safety of 5G. Naturally, this situation was exploited by disinformation actors to advance own particular interests. People responsible for spreading conspiracy theories linked 5G technology roll out with the coronavirus pandemic making the narratives even more destructive.
What supported disinformation theories? It was a clear reference to something most valuable for us – our health. Mems, information from “experts” - we could not identify or from so called trusted, but never revealed sources attacked us from the Internet claiming the new illness and disease caused by 5G technology.
Mix of coronavirus and 5G narratives made an explosive mixture. The latest standard of telecommunication technology was announced as the carrier of virus transfer by the creators of fake news. They wanted us to believe that vaccination will include a chip that allowed to control us. On the other hand, the pandemic was supposed to be a "smoke screen" for secretly installing new antennas.
Initially coronavirus sceptics and 5G sceptics believed that countries without 5G technology did not suffer from COVID-19. The other false narrative speaks about the dangerous electromagnetic radiation emitted by new technology and compares it to radiation to depopulate people. It is worth recalling that developed countries are suffering from negative birth rate problems.
All mixed together, the QAnon
What is QAnon? A conspiracy theory that claims the world is ruled by an elite cabal of pedophiles trafficking children and the only savior is President Trump, who has a secret plan to hold liable. The theory was born in 2017, when a user with the nickname "Q" posted on 4chan (an American imageboard) presenting the theory and claiming that a group of people are currently working against President Trump to remove him from power. Over the years, the theory has developed and has enriched with the new elements such as anti-vaccine, anti-5G, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant narratives and event more bizarre theories about sacrificing children.
The QAnon movement made a big mess in the US presidential election, after the announcement of unfavorable results for Donald Trump. The global conspiracy that was born and has circulated on social media platforms has become a real problem for them, especially after the movement was recognized by the FBI as a growing security threat and a domestic terrorist threat.
The improve edition of history book…. So nothing new
The disinformation narratives, which are writing an alternate version of history are nothing new. This year did not surprise us in this aspect and in this field was a bit boring. Of course, this does not mean that there were not attempts to distort history. The fake narratives were repeated, which try to prove that Poland is responsible for the outbreak of World War II or there were attempts to change a meaning of Soviet invasion on Poland on September 17, 1939.
There were also accusations about alleged attempts to change the interpretation of the history between 1935-1938 and the EUvsDisinfo project, which is responsible for monitoring Russian narratives observed the rising attempt to prove that Poland was in fact an ally of Hitler.
Waiting for a better time
In addition to the problem of disinformation, it is worth highlighting a serious problem with - the quality of the online debate. It has never been on high level but lastly the level of aggression driven by trolls and by the users themselves is dangerously high - and it should be emphasized that this aggression occurs on both sides of the "barricade".
But what can be done when the language of hate, which is used by politicians, public figures, and organizations, which should set an example. It is therefore completely incomprehensible to use offensive words such as “Covidiot”, “Covidian” or “ProEpidemicMan” in public debate to insult people who express skepticism about pandemic.
It is clear that the disinformation narratives will still appear and they will remain one of the challenges for democracy. However, it is worrying that when we are divided according to the principle of "divide and rule" - we will be an even easier target of attack. However, one thing is puzzling - what to do to change it? Is it possible?