Project Syndicate (USA): conspiracy style in pandemic policy

More than half of the world’s population is in isolation because of the pandemic сovid-19. Although the quarantine has slowed the spread of the coronavirus, he sped up the spread other insidious phenomenon: conspiracy theories. Fear for their lives, the lives of loved ones and livelihoods — all in the period of isolation has become a veritable Petri dish for paranoia fantasies.

According to one of the most popular conspiracy theories in pandemic guilty new mobile network 5G, made in China. According to supporters of this theory, emanating from the equipment 5G radiation weakens the immune system or even transmit the virus directly. In the UK supporters of these views claim that Huawei research center, responsible for deploying networks in the UK, is located in Wuhan city, where the pandemic began.

In Wuhan is really a lot of labs, and, according to a recent poll, 23% of Americans and 17% of the French believe that the virus SARS-CoV-2 was “deliberately” created in one of them. In France, the conspiracy, the emphasis at first was on a Chinese lab P4 (highest level of biosecurity), which, as it turned out, was created with the support of the government of France, and then moved to the former Minister of health of France Agnes Busen and her husband, Yves Levi (both are doctors with Jewish roots). It is not surprising that conspiracy theories with the “Chinese laboratory” tied and philanthropist George Soros.

Conspiracy theories generally reflect existing political divisions, and are particularly attractive to the extreme right. Among the participants in the survey above, the supporters of the French party “National Union” twice as likely believed that the virus was made in a lab. In the UK the relationship of the virus with Huawei has proved to be convenient for those members of the ruling Conservative party who believe this company to the Trojan horse of the Chinese government.

Conspiracy theories are not harmless. In the UK it was burned down several telephone lines (which are extremely important for emergency services), and the engineers responsible for the installation, threatened, accused of complicity in the “killing people”.

Most of these theories are distributed through social networking platforms, which now joins a host of new users, including many elderly people who are using digital platforms maintain contact with family and friends. These people grew up in a media environment that was much more powerful, professional control of information, so older people are more likely to share fake news stories and online rumors. The problem is compounded by the fact that people tend to be more willing to believe messages that they receive from someone they trust.

Additional problems can create celebrities. Among those who shared one version of the conspiracy theory 5G, was actor woody Harrelson, who has two million followers on Instagram. Before the advent of social networking such misinformation could catch editor, or it could challenge the journalist leading the interview. But today, celebrities and public figures have the opportunity to broadcast their thoughts in unfiltered (and usually untested) form directly to fans and followers. Although such platforms as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp, impose certain limitations, they still remain faithful to business models that encourage the creation of “viral” content. Wins passion for sensationalism.

Still more problems arise with vaccines, and this is the only way to really put an end to the pandemic. For several decades, conspiracy theories, contributing to the movement against vaccinations (among its members is also a lot of celebrities), are among the most dangerous to human life. False claims about the alleged risks of the standard childhood vaccination has led to outbreaks of measles in UK, Ireland, Nigeria, Romania, Samoa and the United States (which also recently raised concerns about tetanus).

Antiprivivochnaya inciting fears led to a sharp decline in the number of annual flu vaccinations in some European countries — with a concomitant increase in mortality. Surveys of 2015 in Italy and France has shown that 30% of the population of these countries is opposed to mandatory vaccination. And today in these two countries mortality from covid-19 is higher than in neighboring States.

Four years later, after a supporter of Brexia, conservative politician Michael Gove said that the people “have enough experts” pandemic covid-19 showed how distrust and denigration of scientists can lead to fatal consequences. For a successful mass vaccination should society trust the professionals.

However, populist leaders who are in power in different countries, succeed, undermining the role of professionals, experts and other people associated with the “establishment”. For example, the President of the United States Donald trump several times publicly argued with Anthony Fauci, a distinguished Director of the us National Institute of allergic and infectious diseases. In Italy the situation is perhaps even worse. In 2018, the populist coalition was then in power, ignored the opinion of medical professionals and abolished the compulsory vaccination of children.

In addition, the factor of celebrities continues to infect the public dialogue. A few weeks ago the tennis star Novak Djokovic, a supporter of the “natural treatment”, stated that “nobody is forced” to be vaccinated against covid-19.

As in the case of covid-19, the best defense against conspiracy theories is vaccination. People need to train to learn these theories when they encounter him, and to question the sources and the basic logic of the information they find on the Internet. In this sense, much remains to be done to health workers and responsible politicians. To defeat the coronavirus, they need the trust of society. And to be successful they have to stop the spread of two deadly infections at the same time.