The number of conspiracy theories floated by Trump supporters since the Capitol attack in January has been astounding. I think many of us thought that with the election of Joe Biden, a lot of this nonsense-as-fact insanity would stop, or at least slow down proportionately.
But since Donald Trump incited an insurrection against his own government, the barrage of preposterous claims has only seemed to increase. In his last year in office and before he was booted off of Twitter, Trump retweeted roughly 145 accounts that often focused on conspiracy theories, including those of QAnon.
The fear from the pandemic and the rising death tolls only seemed to hatch more lies and outrageous claims, as researchers frantically sought the answers in the truth of science. The speed at which credible, scientific data was amassed was also intentionally slowed by then-President Trump, which allowed his band of misfit crazies to float more conspiracies about Covid-19. Somehow, to nearly half of the country, these asinine fairy-tales became God’s honest truth, as if a credible doctor had gone around to each church and personally advised congregants.
The internet is a beautiful shiny double-edged sword and we have never been more aware of its dichotomy than we are at this moment. Responding to a question on Friday about the alleged role of "platforms like Facebook" in spreading falsehoods about vaccines and the pandemic, President Biden simply stated, "They're killing people." Biden went on to tell reporters at the White House: "The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated."
Facebook may have launched what they deemed to be “the world’s largest Covid-19 inoculation information campaign” earlier this year, with the goal of encouraging users to get vaccinated, but the truth is: the damage has already been done from over a decade of misinformation.
Facebook has also claimed to “ban” users from sharing general forms of vaccine misinformation, like the idea that vaccinations cause autism, but directing users to local authorities to get credible information seems like a lost cause when “trusted” Facebook groups have been disseminating false information on the risks of vaccines for years. These groups have built up loyal followers who have been programmed to distrust medical professionals and conditioned to take in gossip and hearsay as scientific fact.
Facebook did not enact a general fact-checking program until 2016, and the company only took significant action on vaccine misinformation in 2019, when they were forced to, due to mounting political pressure from lawmakers in response to the surge in measles cases across the US. There has yet to be a program put in place to actively counter the disinformation Facebook allowed to run rampant on the site for over ten years, that yielded huge profits for the tech giant.
It doesn’t help that elected Republican leaders are personally espousing these outrageous conspiracy theories, with no system to hold them to account. Ted Cruz told the nation this week that Covid spikes were due to illegal immigrants at the border (see the video embedded in the tweet below). One of my own family members repeated this false accusation to my mother just yesterday as if she had seen it with her own eyes.
Last week I published a personal account of an ongoing struggle within my own family that seems to be playing out similarly in families all over this country, perhaps even the world. I was slightly taken aback at how many people could relate to my story, but I shouldn’t have been. The dynamic of the political divide is now playing out within all of our families and people are past the point of being patient or silent due to the last four years and the threat of another resurgence in this pandemic.
During a White House briefing yesterday, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), confirmed that the seven-day average of coronavirus infections has soared nearly 70% in just one week. This means we have approximately 26,300 documented cases a day, which means the number of unreported cases is much higher.
The most frightening aspect of this data is that the seven-day average for hospitalizations has also increased to about 36% from the previous seven-day period. The conclusion that can be drawn from this information is glaringly painful: we are headed right back to where we started due to those who refuse to get vaccinated.
“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky said. “We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk, and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well.”
The release of this data, which confirmed what we have known was coming for months now, seemed to be the breaking point — at least it was for my family. My mother bravely decided that she was not going to get into a car with my aunt because she had not been vaccinated. There was a very cordial text announcement of this decision, followed by a lengthy phone call, whereby my aunt lied about being vaccinated to my mother…the former judge…and human lie detector.
My mom has been walking the fence and has remained incredibly patient with my aunt over the last five years. But, yesterday, court was in session and the judge was presiding.
“I told her I did not believe her based on her previous answer and the obvious flaws presented in her statement,” said my mother calmly. “She did not seem to know how a vaccination card worked or that they are mandatorily given out, which lets me know that despite what she said, she does not have one.”
“There she is,” I screamed excitedly. “There’s the mother I know!”
My mother calmly continued despite my excited outbursts, “Therefore, I will require her to present the card before she gets in my car — if she fails to do so, I will drive off.”
“So badass,” I whispered before my mother strictly interjected: “Amee, please — this is not a game, it is life and death.” I nodded wide-eyed at the other end of the phone, in complete compliance mode, ready to scream “SIR, YES SIR.”
“She’s back,” I thought while grinning.
You might also be interested to know that another catalyst for my fair-minded mother bringing down the hammer was my aunt repeating the nonsensical Ted Cruz refrain I previously mentioned above: that Covid is spreading due to all of the “illegals coming across the border.”
The final straw for my mother, the one that brought her back to judge mode after years of being off the bench, was when my aunt tried to tell my mom that the people who were involved in the attack on the US Capitol were framed by liberals who really planned it and enacted the real violence.
“My daughter was in the thick of that danger, your niece,” my mom calmly told my aunt. This was the step too far. I also feel like I need to add that my aunt is a very smart woman. My Mimi used to say that both of her daughters were separated by only one point of an IQ test, but I have always suspected that was my grandmother’s way of softening the blow of my mom’s achievements for my aunt. We will never really know, but I do know that my aunt is fully entrenched in a cult, a mindset she seems to be vulnerable to.
According to researchers, there are just 12 people who are responsible for disseminating the bulk of the misleading claims and outright lies about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The group, nicknamed the 'Disinformation Dozen,' produces 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms," according to Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). Those accounts have all been identified by the CCDH here.
The bottom line here is that we will not win the war on our country’s division until we combat the access cults like QAnon have through social media. I firmly believed that the main culprit in the plan of disinformation was Fox News and if we could only eradicate that kind of programming, we could get back on track — clearly, the biggest problem now is social media.
The reality is that any pundit of Fox News, no matter how familiar and beloved they are, doesn’t hold a candle to the power of Facebook and other social media platforms with regard to disinformation. The groundwork for this undying faith and trust was begun and has continued for the last ten years and the people who get their gossip from Facebook, and call it news, believe what they are told there without question. Facebook now does the duty of churches for the Republican Party and nothing is being done to temper their influence or counter their damage.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC Radio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @girlsreallyrule.
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