Misinformation is taking a dangerous hold on Fox News viewers. According to a new poll, half of all Americans who name Fox News as their primary news source believe the debunked conspiracy theory claiming Bill Gates is looking to use a coronavirus vaccine to inject a microchip into people and track the world’s population.
The Yahoo News/YouGov poll, released on Friday, found that 44 percent of Republicans also buy into the unfounded claim, while just 19 percent of Democrats believe the lie about the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist.
According to Yahoo’s report on the poll, neither Fox News nor President Trump has promoted the false Gates conspiracy. But sowing seeds of distrust of mainstream media and the spread of misinformation is a hallmark of the network and the current president. Last month, Fox primetime host Laura Ingraham shared a tweet where she expressed agreement with a user who wrote about the debunked conspiracy theory.
“Digitally tracking Americans’ every move has been a dream of the globalists for years. This health crisis is the perfect vehicle for them to push this,” Ingraham wrote.
The poll also found that just 15 percent of MSNBC viewers believe the untrue conspiracy theory which, according to the fact-checking publication Snopes, began with the anti-vaccine movement. They chose to target Gates specifically because of his decade-long advocacy for vaccines.
According to an April report in the New York Times that looked into the right-wing targeting of Gates, media analysis company Zignal Labs found that “misinformation about Gates is now the most widespread of all coronavirus falsehoods” that the company has tracked.
This debunked conspiracy theory could be especially menacing if it deters any portion of the population from getting vaccinated, if and when one becomes available, which would then make it much tougher to rid the world of the virus.
In another poll released on Friday by Reuters/Ipsos showed increasing mistrust in the president due to his consistent habit of sharing misinformation. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they would be less willing to take a vaccine if it were endorsed by the president.
The picture these polls paint is both sad and obviously dangerous for all of us, especially with the current pandemic. Unfortunately, our country’s lack of trustworthy leadership means that more and more people are susceptible to bad and untrue advice that is rampant on random Reddit forums, Facebook posts and, yes, even TikTok — where conspiracy theories are paired with viral dances.
Carl Bergstrom’s two disparate areas of expertise merged as reports of a mysterious respiratory illness emerged in January
Julia Carrie Wong, Tue 28 Apr 2020 11.00 BST
Carl Bergstrom is uniquely suited to understanding the current moment. A professor of biology at the University of Washington, he has spent his career studying two seemingly disparate topics: emerging infectious diseases and networked misinformation. They merged into one the moment reports of a mysterious respiratory illness emerged from China in January.
The coronavirus touched off both a pandemic and an “infodemic” of hoaxes, conspiracy theories, honest misunderstandings and politicized scientific debates. Bergstrom has jumped into the fray, helping the public and the press navigate the world of epidemiological models, statistical uncertainty and the topic of his forthcoming book: bullshit.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve been teaching a course and have co-written a book about the concept of bullshit. Explain what you mean by bullshit?
The formal definition that we use is “language, statistical figures, data, graphics and other forms of presentation that are intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener with a blatant disregard for truth or logical coherence”.
The idea with bullshit is that it’s trying to appear authoritative and definitive in a way that’s not about communicating accurately and informing a reader, but rather by overwhelming them, persuading them, impressing them. If that’s done without any allegiance to truth, or accuracy, that becomes bullshit.
We’re all used to verbal bullshit. We’re all used to campaign promises and weasel words, and we’re pretty good at seeing through that because we’ve had a lot of practice. But as the world has become increasingly quantified and the currency of arguments has become statistics, facts and figures and models and such, we’re increasingly confronted, even in the popular press, with numerical and statistical arguments. And this area’s really ripe for bullshit, because people don’t feel qualified to question information that’s given to them in quantitative form.
Are there bullshit narratives about the coronavirus that you are concerned about right now?
What’s happened with this pandemic that we’re not accustomed to in the epidemiology community is that it’s been really heavily politicized. Even when scientists are very well-intentioned and not trying to support any side of the narrative, when they do work and release a paper it gets picked up by actors with political agendas.
Whether it’s talking about seroprevalence or estimating the chance that this is even going to come to the United States at all each study gets picked up and placed into this little political box and sort of used as a cudgel to beat the other side with.
So even when the material isn’t being produced as bullshit, it’s being picked up and used in the service of that by overstating its claims, by cherry-picking the information that’s out there and so on. And I think that’s kind of the biggest problem that we’re facing.
One example [of intentional bullshit] might be this insistence for a while on graphing the number of cases on a per-capita basis, so that people could say the US response is so much better than the rest of the world because we have a slower rate of growth per capita. That was basically graphical malfeasance or bullshit. When a wildfire starts spreading, you’re interested in how it’s spreading now, not whether it’s spreading in a 100-acre wood or millions of square miles of national forest.
Is there one big lesson that you think that the media should keep in mind as we communicate science to the public? What mistakes are we making?
I think the media has been adjusting really fast and doing really well. When I’m talking about how to avoid misinformation around this I’m constantly telling people to trust the professional fact-based media. Rather than looking for the latest rumor that’s spreading across Facebook or Twitter so that you can have information up to the hour, recognize that it’s much better to have solidly sourced, well-vetted information from yesterday.
Hyper-partisan media are making a huge mess of this, but that’s on purpose. They’ve got a reason to promote hydroxychloroquine or whatever it is and just run with that. They’re not even trying to be responsible.
But one of the biggest things that people [in the media]could do to improve would be to recognize that scientific studies, especially in a fast-moving situation like this, are provisional. That’s the nature of science. Anything can be corrected. There’s no absolute truth there. Each model, each finding is just adding to a weight of evidence in one direction or another.
A lot of the reporting is focusing on models, and most of us probably don’t have any basic training in how to read them or what kind of credence to put in them. What should we know?
The key thing, and this goes for scientists as well as non-scientists, is that people are not doing a very good job thinking about what the purpose of different models are, how the purposes of different models vary, and then what the scope of their value is. When these models get treated as if they’re oracles, then people both over-rely on them and treat them too seriously – and then turn around and slam them too hard for not being perfect at everything.
Are there mistakes that are made by people in the scientific community when it comes to communicating with the public?
We’re trying to communicate as a scientific community in a new way, where people are posting their data in real time. But we weren’t ready for the degree to which that stuff would be picked up and assigned meaning in this highly politically polarized environment. Work that might be fairly easy for researchers to contextualize in the field can be portrayed as something very, very different in the popular press.
The first Imperial College model in March was predicting 1.1 million to 2.2 million American deaths if the pandemic were not controlled. That’s a really scary, dramatic story, and I still think that it’s not unrealistic. That got promoted by one side of the partisan divide. Then Imperial came back and modeled a completely different scenario, where the disease was actually brought under control and suppressed in the US, and they released a subsequent model that said, ‘If we do this, something like 50,000 deaths will occur.’ That was picked up by the other side and used to try to discredit the Imperial College team entirely by saying, ‘A couple of weeks ago they said a million now they’re saying 50,000; they can’t get anything right.’ And the answer , of course, is that they were modeling two different scenarios.
We’re also not doing enough of deliberately stressing the possible weaknesses of our interpretations. That varies enormously from researcher to researcher and team to team.
It requires a lot of discipline to argue really hard for something but also be scrupulously open about all of the weaknesses in your own argument.
But it’s more important than ever, right? A really good paper will lay out all the most persuasive evidence it can and then in the conclusion section or the discussion section say, ‘OK, here are all the reasons that this could be wrong and here are the weaknesses.’
When you have something that’s so directly policy relevant, and there’s a lot of lives at stake, we’re learning how to find the right balance.
It is a bit of a nightmare to put out data that is truthful, but also be aware that there are bad faith actors at the moment who might pounce on it and use it in a way you didn’t intend.
There’s a spectrum. You have outright bad faith actors – Russian propaganda picking up on things and bots spreading misinformation – and then you have someone like Georgia Governor Brian Kemp who I wouldn’t calla bad faith actor. He’s a misinformed actor.
There’s so much that goes unsaid in science in terms of context and what findings mean that we don’t usually write in papers. If someone does a mathematical forecasting model, you’re usually not going to have a half-page discussion on the limitations of forecasting. We’re used to writing for an audience of 50 people in the world, if we’re lucky, who have backgrounds that are very similar to our own and have a huge set of shared assumptions and shared knowledge. And it works really well when you’re writing on something that only 50 people in the world care about and all of them have comparable training, but it is a real mess when it becomes pressing, and I don’t think any of us have figured out exactly what to do about that because we’re also trying to work quickly and it’s important to get this information out.
One area that has already become contentious and in some ways politicized is the serology surveys, which are supposed to show what percentage of the population has antibodies to the virus. What are some of the big picture contextual caveats and limitations that we should keep in mind as these surveys come out?
The seroprevalence in the US is a political issue, and so the first thing is to recognize that when anyone is reporting on that stuff, there’s a political context to it. It may even be that some of the research is being done with an implicitly political context, depending on who the funders are or what the orientations and biases of some of the researchers.
On the scientific side, I think there’s really two things to think about. The first one is the issue of selection bias. You’re trying to draw a conclusion about one population by sampling from a subset of that population and you want to know how close to random your subset is with respect to the thing you’re trying to measure. The Santa Clara study recruited volunteers off of Facebook. The obvious source of sampling bias there is that people desperately want to get tested. The people that want it are, of course, people that think they’ve had it.
The other big piece is understanding the notion of positive predictive value and the way false positive and false negative error rates influence the estimate. And that depends on the incidence of infection in the population.
If you have a test that has a 3% error rate, and the incidence in the population is below 3%, then most of the positives that you get are going to be false positives. And so you’re not going to get a very tight estimate about how many people have it. This has been a real problem with the Santa Clara study. From my read of the paper, their data is actually consistent with nobody being infected. A New York Citystudy on the other hand showed 21% seropositive, so even if there has a 3% error rate, the majority of those positives have to be true positives.
Now that we’ve all had a crash course in models and serosurveys, what are the other areas of science where it makes sense for the public to start getting educated on the terms of the debate?
One that I think will come along sooner or later is interpreting studies of treatments. We’ve dealt with that a little bit with the hydroxychloroquine business but not in any serious way because the hydroxychloroquine work has been pretty weak and the results have not been so positive.
But there are ongoing tests of a large range of existing drugs. And these studies are actually pretty hard to do. There’s a lot of subtle technical issues: what are you doing for controls? Is there a control arm at all? If not, how do you interpret the data? If there is a control arm, how is it structured? How do you control for the characteristics of the population on whom you’re using the drug or their selection biases in terms of who’s getting the drug?
Unfortunately, given what we’ve already seen with hydroxychloroquine, it’s fairly likely that this will be politicized as well. There’ll be a parallel set of issues that are going to come around with vaccination, but that’s more like a year off.
If you had the ability to arm every person with one tool – a statistical tool or scientific concept – to help them understand and contextualize scientific information as we look to the future of this pandemic, what would it be?
I would like people to understand that there are interactions between the models we make, the science we do and the way that we behave. The models that we make influence the decisions that we take individually and as a society, which then feed back into the models and the models often don’t treat that part explicitly.
Once you put a model out there that then creates changes in behavior that pull you out of the domain that the model was trying to model in the first place. We have to be very attuned to that as we try to use the models for guiding policy.
That’s very interesting, and not what I expected you to say.
What did you expect?
That correlation does not imply causation.
That’s another very good one. Seasonality is a great example there. We’re trying a whole bunch of things at the same time. We’re throwing all kinds of possible solutions at this and lots of things are changing. It’s remarkable to me actually, that so many US states are seeing the epidemic curve decrease. And so there’s a bunch of possibilities there. It could be because people’s behavior is changing. There could be some seasonality there. And there are other possible explanations as well.
But what is really important is that just because the trend that you see is consistent with a story that someone’s selling, there may be many other stories that are also consistent, so inferring causality is dangerous.
As parts of the United States settle in for what may be the worst weeks of their local covid-19 outbreaks, a familiar refrain is sure to emerge.
Some people will complain that the death count attributed to the coronavirus is being exaggerated. Others, including researchers, have argued that covid-19 related deaths are actually being undercounted, as people die at home without being tested. Still others will point to the final death count and say that because it’s lower than X (whether that number be flu deaths, car accident deaths, or some other moving goalpost), then that means the efforts and sacrifices made for social distancing weren’t worth it—ignoring, of course, that social distancing was the reason the toll wasn’t much higher. Figuring out how deadly covid-19 truly is will take far more time to untangle than anyone would want, and no one’s likely to be fully satisfied with the answers we get.
As of April 10, there have been around 1.6 million reported cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus worldwide. There have also been over 96,000 reported deaths, with over 16,000 deaths documented in the U.S. But these numbers are largely acknowledged as a very rough, possibly even misleading estimate of the problem, given the wide gaps in testing capacity across different countries and even within a country.
On the political right, many have taken to fostering conspiracy theories about these deaths. You don’t have to go far on social media to see people accusing doctors and health officials of fudging the numbers higher to make President Trump look bad or to (somehow) profit off the tragedy. Other conservative voices like the disgraced sex pest Bill O’Reilly are less paranoid but similarly dismissive, arguing that many of those who died “were on their last legs anyway.”
It’s true that older people and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of serious complications and death from covid-19. But the same can be said for almost every other leading cause of death, whether it’s cancer, heart attack, or diabetes. And just as living is hardly a simple affair, so too is dying. Sometimes you can point to a single factor that kills a person, but often it’s a mix of ailments, with a viral infection like covid-19 being the final shove.
The key point here is that epidemiologists and others who try to estimate how many people die from any given cause per year know the above very well. The flu, for instance, doesn’t usually kill in isolation either—it too disproportionately kills the elderly and otherwise already sick. Yet many of the same people who are now trying to downplay covid-19 deaths also argued that its early death toll wasn’t coming anywhere close to the typical seasonal flu’s annual tally (an argument meant to push back against the idea of doing anything too serious to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus).
That said, we’re much better at estimating how many deaths in the U.S. are flu-related because the influenza virus is a known entity. We have a decent sense of how many people are infected with the flu every year, how many people go to the doctor or are hospitalized, and how many people it helps kill, thanks to a well-established nationwide surveillance system. But that isn’t true for covid-19.
There’s steady evidence indicating that covid-19 cases nearly everywhere in the world are being undercounted. That’s partly because testing remains so haphazard and has inherent limitations. The most common type of covid-19 test right now, for instance, can only confirm an active infection, not whether you had a previous case (newer antibody tests can address that problem but have their own flaws). It’s also because the virus infects a still-unknown percentage of people without making them feel sick at all.
Many more people have had or will catch the coronavirus than any current tracking will ever indicate. These hidden cases are almost certainly less deadly on average than the known cases that wind up in hospitals, so it’s likely that the current documented fatality rate of covid-19 (over 5 percent worldwide) is an overestimate. But that doesn’t mean more people aren’t dying from covid-19 than are being reported.
In areas of China and Italy hit hard by the coronavirus, news reports have suggested a wide gulf between the official number of covid-19-related deaths in a town and what residents are seeing for themselves. In the U.S., there are still regions where testing is limited and people who may have died from covid-19 in their homes are never tested, including New York City. And there’s the simple harsh reality that we’re probably still in the very beginning of this pandemic.
Even if outbreaks start to peter out in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s the risk that loosening our restrictions on distancing will fuel new ones. And even if the summer heat in the U.S. makes it harder for the virus to spread here, as some experts hope, a second wave in the fall and winter could certainly happen, much as it did for the last pandemic (a strain of flu) in 2009.
All of these variables will affect the final death toll from covid-19, as will how countries continue to respond to the crisis. Ironically, the steps we take to prevent new cases and deaths may be the very thing that makes people doubt they were necessary.
In late March, the White House and U.S. public health officials announced that they projected 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in the country by the pandemic’s end, provided everything was done to slow its spread. On Thursday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that newer modeling data has suggested the U.S. death toll may end up closer to 60,000, so long as we keep mitigating the outbreak. Almost immediately, some people chose to take it as evidence that mitigation efforts aren’t necessary and that the initial warnings about the virus were overblown—ignoring, again, that the reason for the downward revision in projected deaths is the success of social distancing.
There are still a lot of things we don’t know about the coronavirus, and many of the things we think we know are going to keep changing. But here’s something to remember.
By the end of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, the World Health Organization reported that about 19,000 people were confirmed to have died from the virus. By 2013, severalstudies estimated that the true death toll was at least 10 times higher and even higher still when you took into account other causes of death indirectly worsened by the flu, like heart attacks. Knowing how deadly covid-19 will be could very well take that long to nail down too.
Another article of interest:
New York City’s covid-19 death toll is likely higher than reported, due to the fact that the…Read more
NOVA YORK – O coronavírus deu origem a uma enxurrada de teorias da conspiração, desinformação e propaganda, minando as autoridades de saúde e corroendo a confiança do público de maneiras que podem prolongar a pandemia e até mesmo se estender para além dela.
Alegações de que o novo coronavírus seria uma arma biológica estrangeira, uma invenção partidária ou parte de um projeto de reengenharia social substituíram um vírus sem razão nem propósito por vilões mais familiares e compreensíveis. Cada alegação parece dar a essa tragédia sem sentido algum grau de significado, por mais sombrio que seja.
Rumores de curas secretas – beber alvejante diluído, desligar os aparelhos eletrônicos, comer banana – dão uma esperança de proteção contra uma ameaça da qual nem mesmo os líderes mundiais estão escapando.
A crença de que alguém teve acesso ao conhecimento proibido proporciona uma sensação de certeza e controle em meio a uma crise que virou o mundo de cabeça para baixo. E compartilhar esse “conhecimento” pode dar às pessoas algo difícil de encontrar depois de semanas de isolamento e morte: a sensação de que se está fazendo alguma coisa.
“Aí estão todos os ingredientes que empurram as pessoas para as teorias da conspiração”, disse Karen Douglas, psicóloga social que estuda a crença em conspirações na Universidade de Kent, na Grã-Bretanha.
Rumores e afirmações flagrantemente estapafúrdias são disseminados por pessoas comuns cujas faculdades críticas simplesmente se viram esmagadas sob sentimentos de confusão e desamparo, dizem os psicólogos.
Mas muitas alegações falsas também vêm sendo promovidas por governos que tentam esconder seus fracassos, líderes partidários em busca de benefícios políticos, golpistas em geral e, nos Estados Unidos, por um presidente que insiste em curas não comprovadas e dispara falsidades que procuram eximi-lo de qualquer culpa.
Todas as teorias da conspiração carregam uma mensagem em comum: o único jeito de se proteger é saber as verdades secretas que “eles” não querem que você ouça.
O sentimento de segurança e controle proporcionado por esses rumores pode ser ilusório, mas os danos à confiança do público são bem reais.
As teorias conspiratórias estão levando as pessoas a consumir remédios caseiros que se revelaram letais e a desrespeitar as orientações de distanciamento social. E estão sabotando as ações coletivas, como ficar em casa ou usar máscaras, atitudes necessárias para conter um vírus que já matou mais de 79 mil pessoas.
“Já enfrentamos pandemias antes desta”, disse Graham Brookie, que dirige o Laboratório de Pesquisa Forense Digital do Atlantic Council. “Mas nunca enfrentamos uma pandemia num momento em que as pessoas estivessem tão conectadas e tivessem tanto acesso a informações quanto agora.”
Esse crescente ecossistema de desinformação e desconfiança pública obrigou a Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS) a ligar o alerta para uma “infodemia”. “Estamos assistindo a uma verdadeira inundação”, disse Brookie. “A ansiedade é viral, e todos estamos nos sentindo mais ansiosos que nunca.”
O fascínio do ‘conhecimento secreto’
“As conspirações atraem as pessoas porque prometem satisfazer certos motivos psicológicos que são importantes para elas”, disse Douglas. Os principais deles: o domínio sobre os fatos, a autonomia sobre o bem-estar e a sensação de controle.
Quando a verdade não atende a essas necessidades, nós humanos temos uma capacidade incrível de inventar histórias que atenderão, mesmo que uma parte de nós saiba que as histórias são falsas. Um estudo recente revelou que as pessoas são significativamente mais propensas a compartilhar informações falsas sobre o coronavírus do que imaginam.
“A magnitude da desinformação que se espalhou com a pandemia da covid-19 está sobrecarregando nossa equipe”, escreveu no Twitter o Snopes, um site de verificação de fatos. “Estamos vendo que milhares de pessoas, na ânsia de encontrar algum conforto, acabam piorando as coisas ao compartilhar informações falsas (e, às vezes, perigosas).”
Vastamente compartilhadas, postagens de Instagram alegaram, falsamente, que o coronavírus fora planejado por Bill Gates em benefício de empresas farmacêuticas. No Alabama, postagens de Facebook afirmaram, falsamente, que poderes obscuros haviam ordenado que doentes fossem secretamente enviados de helicóptero para o Estado. Na América Latina, proliferaram rumores igualmente infundados de que o vírus fora projetado para espalhar o HIV. No Irã, vozes pró-governo retrataram a doença como uma trama ocidental.
Se as alegações parecerem sigilosas, melhor ainda
A crença de que temos acesso a informações secretas pode nos dar a sensação de que temos uma vantagem, de que, de alguma forma, estamos mais seguros. “Quem acredita em teorias da conspiração acha que tem um poder, conferido pelo conhecimento, que as outras pessoas não têm”, disse Douglas.
A mídia italiana repercutiu um vídeo postado por um italiano que morava em Tóquio, no qual ele dizia que o coronavírus era tratável, mas que as autoridades italianas estavam “escondendo a verdade”.
Outros vídeos, muito populares no YouTube, afirmam que toda a pandemia é uma ficção encenada para controlar a população.
As teorias da conspiração também podem fazer as pessoas se sentirem menos sozinhas. Poucas coisas estreitam mais os laços entre “nós” do que combater “eles”, especialmente quando “eles” são estrangeiros e minorias, frequentes bodes expiatórios de boatos sobre o coronavírus e muitas outras coisas no passado.
Mas qualquer conforto que essas teorias proporcionem terá vida curta. Com o tempo, segundo pesquisas, o intercâmbio de conspirações não apenas fracassa em satisfazer nossas necessidades psicológicas, disse Douglas, como também tende a agravar sentimentos de medo e desamparo.
E isso pode nos levar a procurar explicações ainda mais extremas, como viciados em busca de doses cada vez mais fortes.
Governos vêm uma oportunidade na confusão
Os conspiradores e questionadores agora têm apoio dos governos. Antecipando a repercussão política da crise, líderes governamentais agiram rapidamente para se eximirem da culpa, espalhando suas próprias mentiras.
Uma importante autoridade chinesa disse que o vírus foi introduzido na China por membros do Exército dos Estados Unidos, uma acusação que teve permissão para se disseminar nas mídias sociais rigidamente controladas da China.
Na Venezuela, o presidente Nicolás Maduro sugeriu que o vírus era uma arma biológica americana cujo alvo seria a China. No Irã, as autoridades o chamaram de conspiração para acabar com o processo eleitoral no país. E agências de notícias que apoiam o governo russo, algumas com filiais na Europa ocidental, ventilaram alegações de que os Estados Unidos projetaram o vírus para minar a economia chinesa.
Nas antigas repúblicas soviéticas do Turcomenistão e Tadjiquistão, líderes recomendaram tratamentos falsos e defenderam a ideia de que os cidadãos deveriam continuar trabalhando.
Mas as autoridades tampouco deixaram de espalhar boatos em nações mais democráticas, particularmente naquelas em que a desconfiança em relação à autoridade abriu espaço para a ascensão de fortes movimentos populistas.
Matteo Salvini, líder do partido anti-imigração Liga Norte, na Itália, escreveu no Twitter que a China havia criado um “supervírus de pulmão” a partir de “morcegos e ratos”.
E o presidente do Brasil, Jair Bolsonaro, repetidas vezes propagandeou tratamentos não comprovados e insinuou que o coronavírus seria menos perigoso do que dizem os especialistas. Facebook, Twitter e YouTube tomaram a extraordinária decisão de remover suas postagens.
O presidente Donald Trump também insistiu repetidamente no uso de medicamentos não comprovados, apesar das advertências dos cientistas e de pelo menos uma overdose fatal, a qual vitimou um homem cuja esposa disse que ele havia tomado o remédio por sugestão de Trump.
Trump acusou seus supostos inimigos de tentar “inflamar” a “situação” do coronavírus para prejudicá-lo. Quando começaram a faltar equipamentos de proteção individual nos hospitais de Nova York, ele insinuou que os profissionais de saúde estavam roubando as máscaras. Seus aliados foram ainda mais longe.
O senador Tom Cotton, republicano do Arkansas, e outros sugeriram que o vírus foi produzido por um laboratório de armas chinês. Alguns aliados da mídia alegaram que os inimigos de Trump exageraram o número de mortos.
Uma crise paralela
“Essa supressão de informações é perigosa – muito, muito perigosa”, disse Brookie, referindo-se aos esforços chineses e americanos para minimizar a ameaça do surto.
A supressão de informações alimentou não apenas conspirações específicas, mas também uma sensação mais generalizada de que as fontes e dados oficiais não são confiáveis, bem como a ideia cada vez mais disseminada de que as pessoas devem buscar a verdade por conta própria.
A cacofonia dos epidemiologistas de sofá, que costumam chamar a atenção com afirmações sensacionalistas, muitas vezes encobre a fala de especialistas legítimos, cujas respostas raramente são muito sintéticas ou tranquilizadoras.
Eles prometem curas fáceis, como evitar os aparelhos eletrônicos ou até mesmo comer bananas, e dizem que o transtorno do isolamento social é desnecessário. Alguns chegam a vender tratamentos enganosos que eles próprios inventaram.
“As teorias da conspiração do campo da medicina têm o poder de aumentar a desconfiança nas autoridades médicas, o que pode afetar a disposição das pessoas a se protegerem”, escreveram Daniel Jolley e Pia Lamberty, pesquisadores de psicologia, em um artigo recente.
Demonstrou-se que tais alegações deixam as pessoas menos propensas a tomar vacinas ou antibióticos e mais propensas a procurar aconselhamento médico junto a amigos e familiares, e não profissionais de saúde.
A crença em uma conspiração também tende a aumentar a crença nas outras. As consequências, alertam os especialistas, podem não apenas piorar a pandemia, mas também se estender para além dela. / TRADUÇÃO DE RENATO PRELORENTZOU
The coronavirus has given rise to a flood of conspiracy theories, disinformation and propaganda, eroding public trust and undermining health officials in ways that could elongate and even outlast the pandemic.
Claims that the virus is a foreign bioweapon, a partisan invention or part of a plot to re-engineer the population have replaced a mindless virus with more familiar, comprehensible villains. Each claim seems to give a senseless tragedy some degree of meaning, however dark.
Rumors of secret cures — diluted bleach, turning off your electronics, bananas — promise hope of protection from a threat that not even world leaders can escape.
The belief that one is privy to forbidden knowledge offers feelings of certainty and control amid a crisis that has turned the world upside down. And sharing that “knowledge” may give people something that is hard to come by after weeks of lockdowns and death: a sense of agency.
“It has all the ingredients for leading people to conspiracy theories,” said Karen M. Douglas, a social psychologist who studies belief in conspiracies at the University of Kent in Britain.
Rumors and patently unbelievable claims are spread by everyday people whose critical faculties have simply been overwhelmed, psychologists say, by feelings of confusion and helplessness.
But many false claims are also being promoted by governments looking to hide their failures, partisan actors seeking political benefit, run-of-the-mill scammers and, in the United States, a president who has pushed unproven cures and blame-deflectingfalsehoods.
The conspiracy theories all carry a common message: The only protection comes from possessing the secret truths that “they” don’t want you to hear.
The feelings of security and control offered by such rumors may be illusory, but the damage to the public trust is all too real.
It has led people to consume fatal home remedies and flout social distancing guidance. And it is disrupting the sweeping collective actions, like staying at home or wearing masks, needed to contain a virus that has already killed more than 79,000 people.
“We’ve faced pandemics before,” said Graham Brookie, who directs the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “We haven’t faced a pandemic at a time when humans are as connected and have as much access to information as they do now.”
This growing ecosystem of misinformation and public distrust has led the World Health Organization to warn of an “infodemic.”
“You see the space being flooded,” Mr. Brookie said, adding, “The anxiety is viral, and we’re all just feeling that at scale.”
The Allure of ‘Secret Knowledge’
“People are drawn to conspiracies because they promise to satisfy certain psychological motives that are important to people,” Dr. Douglas said. Chief among them: command of the facts, autonomy over one’s well-being and a sense of control.
If the truth does not fill those needs, we humans have an incredible capacity to invent stories that will, even when some part of us knows they are false. A recent study found that people are significantly likelier to share false coronavirus information than they are to believe it.
“The magnitude of misinformation spreading in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is overwhelming our small team,” Snopes, a fact-checking site, said on Twitter. “We’re seeing scores of people, in a rush to find any comfort, make things worse as they share (sometimes dangerous) misinformation.”
Widely shared, Instagram posts falsely suggested that the coronavirus was planned by Bill Gates on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. In Alabama, Facebook posts falsely claimed that shadowy powers had ordered sick patients to be secretly helicoptered into the state. In Latin America, equally baseless rumors have proliferated that the virus was engineered to spread H.I.V. In Iran, pro-government voices portray the disease as a Western plot.
If the claims are seen as taboo, all the better.
The belief that we have access to secret information may help us feel that we have an advantage, that we are somehow safer. “If you believe in conspiracy theories, then you have power through knowledge that other people don’t have,” Dr. Douglas said.
Italian media buzzed over a video posted by an Italian man from Tokyo in which he claimed that the coronavirus was treatable but that Italian officials were “hiding the truth.”
Other videos, popular on YouTube, claim that the entire pandemic is a fiction staged to control the population.
Still others say that the disease is real, but its cause isn’t a virus — it’s 5G cellular networks.
One YouTube video pushing this falsehood, and implying that social distancing measures could be ignored, has received 1.9 million views. In Britain, there has been a rash of attacks on cellular towers.
Conspiracy theories may also make people feel less alone. Few things tighten the bonds of “us” like rallying against “them,” especially foreigners and minorities, both frequent scapegoats of coronavirus rumors and much else before now.
But whatever comfort that affords is short-lived.
Over time, research finds, trading in conspiracies not only fails to satisfy our psychological needs, Dr. Douglas said, but also tends to worsen feelings of fear or helplessness.
And that can lead us to seek out still more extreme explanations, like addicts looking for bigger and bigger hits.
Governments Find Opportunity in Confusion
The homegrown conspiracists and doubters are finding themselves joined by governments. Anticipating political backlash from the crisis, government leaders have moved quickly to shunt the blame by trafficking in false claims of their own.
A senior Chinese official pushed claims that the virus was introduced to China by members of the United States Army, an accusation that was allowed to flourish on China’s tightly controlled social media.
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro suggested that the virus was an American bioweapon aimed at China. In Iran, officials called it a plot to suppress the vote there. And outlets that back the Russian government, including branches in Western Europe, have promoted claims that the United States engineered the virus to undermine China’s economy.
In the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, leaders praised bogus treatments and argued that citizens should continue working.
But officials have hardly refrained from the rumor mongering in more democratic nations, particularly those where distrust of authority has given rise to strong populist movements.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s anti-migrant League Party, wrote on Twitter that China had devised a “lung supervirus” from “bats and rats.”
And President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has repeatedly promoted unproven coronavirus treatments, and implied that the virus is less dangerous than experts say. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all took the extraordinary step of removing the posts.
President Trump, too, has repeatedly pushed unproven drugs, despite warnings from scientists and despite at least one fatal overdose of a man whose wife said he had taken a drug at Mr. Trump’s suggestion.
Mr. Trump has accused perceived enemies of seeking to “inflame” the coronavirus “situation” to hurt him. When supplies of personal protective equipment fell short at New York hospitals, he implied that health workers might be stealing masks.
His allies have gone further.
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, and others have suggested that the virus was produced by a Chinese weapons lab. Some media allies have claimed that the death toll has been inflated by Mr. Trump’s enemies.
A Parallel Crisis
“This kind of information suppression is dangerous — really, really dangerous,” Mr. Brookie said, referring to Chinese and American efforts to play down the threat of the outbreak.
It has nourished not just individual conspiracies but a wider sense that official sources and data cannot be trusted, and a growing belief that people must find the truth on their own.
A cacophony arising from armchair epidemiologists who often win attention through sensational claims is at times crowding out legitimate experts whose answers are rarely as tidy or emotionally reassuring.
They promise easy cures, like avoiding telecommunications or even eating bananas. They wave off the burdens of social isolation as unnecessary. Some sell sham treatments of their own.
“Medical conspiracy theories have the power to increase distrust in medical authorities, which can impact people’s willingness to protect themselves,” Daniel Jolley and Pia Lamberty, scholars of psychology, wrote in a recent article.
Such claims have been shown to make people less likely to take vaccines or antibiotics, and more likely to seek medical advice from friends and family instead of from doctors.
Belief in one conspiracy also tends to increase belief in others. The consequences, experts warn, could not only worsen the pandemic, but outlive it.
Medical conspiracies have been a growing problem for years. So has distrust of authority, a major driver of the world’s slide into fringe populism. Now, as the world enters an economic crisis with little modern precedent, that may deepen.
The wave of coronavirus conspiracies, Dr. Jolley and Dr. Lamberty wrote, “has the potential to be just as dangerous for societies as the outbreak itself.”
Well-understood physical and chemical processes can easily explain the alleged evidence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program, commonly referred to as ‘chemtrails’ or ‘covert geoengineering.’ A survey of the world’s leading atmospheric scientists categorically rejects the existence of a secret spraying program.
This is a condensation trail, or contrail, left behind an aircraft. Credit: Courtesy of Mick West
Well-understood physical and chemical processes can easily explain the alleged evidence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program, commonly referred to as “chemtrails” or “covert geoengineering,” concludes a new study from Carnegie Science, University of California Irvine, and the nonprofit organization Near Zero.
Some groups and individuals erroneously believe that the long-lasting condensation trails, or contrails, left behind aircraft are evidence of a secret large-scale spraying program. They call these imagined features “chemtrails.” Adherents of this conspiracy theory sometimes attribute this alleged spraying to the government and sometimes to industry.
The authors of this study, including Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira, conducted a survey of the world’s leading atmospheric scientists, who categorically rejected the existence of a secret spraying program. The team’s findings, published by Environmental Research Letters, are based on a survey of two groups of experts: atmospheric chemists who specialize in condensation trails and geochemists working on atmospheric deposition of dust and pollution.
The survey results show that 76 of the 77 participating scientists said they had not encountered evidence of a secret spraying program, and agree that the alleged evidence cited by the individuals who believe that atmospheric spraying is occurring could be explained through other factors, such as typical airplane contrail formation and poor data sampling.
The research team undertook their study in response to the large number of people who claim to believe in a secret spraying program. In a 2011 international survey, nearly 17 percent of respondents said they believed the existence of a secret large-scale atmospheric spraying program to be true or partly true. And in recent years a number of websites have arisen claiming to show evidence of widespread secret chemical spraying, which they say is linked to negative impacts on human health and the environment.
“We wanted to establish a scientific record on the topic of secret atmospheric spraying programs for the benefit of those in the public who haven’t made up their minds,” said Steven Davis of UC Irvine. “The experts we surveyed resoundingly rejected contrail photographs and test results as evidence of a large-scale atmospheric conspiracy.”
The research team says they do not hope to sway those already convinced that there is a secret spraying program — as these individuals usually only reject counter-evidence as further proof of their theories — but rather to establish a source of objective science that can inform public discourse.
“Despite the persistence of erroneous theories about atmospheric chemical spraying programs, until now there were no peer-reviewed academic studies showing that what some people think are ‘chemtrails’ are just ordinary contrails, which are becoming more abundant as air travel expands. Also, it is possible that climate change is causing contrails to persist for longer periods than they used to.” Caldeira said. “I felt it was important to definitively show what real experts in contrails and aerosols think. We might not convince die-hard believers that their beloved secret spraying program is just a paranoid fantasy, but hopefully their friends will accept the facts.”
Christine Shearer, Mick West, Ken Caldeira, Steven J Davis. Quantifying expert consensus against the existence of a secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program. Environmental Research Letters, 2016; 11 (8): 084011 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/8/084011