But sometimes it’s not that deep, sometimes one has to look what is going on in the environment to understand why people would believe conspiracy theories. Certainly, the crashing economy, social isolation, people losing their jobs, death, lock downs and so on, have contributed to people becoming more prone to believing in conspiracy theories
In everyday life, it is common to hear someone say, “I just had a thought” or “I think, therefore I am” (a Latin philosophical proposition by René Descartes). Thoughts can be idea-like, memory-like, picture-like, or song-like. The fancy term for thoughts in cognitive science and neuroscience is “mental representation”, but from a debunkers point of view THOUGHTS WITHOUT FACTS ARE JUST…THOUGHTS.
There’s been a lot of recent work in psychology attempting to figure out why some people are particularly drawn to conspiracy theories. For example, research has found that people who believe in conspiracy theories tend to have a greater need for cognitive closure (the desire to find an explanation when explanations are lacking) and to be unique. But sometimes it’s not that deep, sometimes one has to look at what is going on in the environment to understand why people would believe conspiracy theories. Certainly, the crashing economy, social isolation, people losing their jobs, death, lockdowns and so on, have contributed to people becoming more prone to believing in conspiracy theories.
With people staying inside, there have been many internet moments that kept everyone entertained during the pandemic. Like watching the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller each take on two roles for the monster hit production of Frankenstein, or who can forget the video of a woman while on a video conference and the underwear man hitting the wall, or if you are a movie fanatic like me, the moment when Lord of the Rings cast and crew reunited during the lockdown. Yet none of those went as viral as a 26-minute video called “Plandemic,” a slickly produced narration that wrongly claimed a shadowy cabal of elites was using the virus and a potential vaccine to profit and gain power. The video featured a discredited scientist, Judy Mikovits, who said her research about the harm from vaccines had been buried.
“Plandemic” went online on May 4 when its maker, Mikki Willis, a little-known film producer, posted it to Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and a separate website set up to share the video. For three days, it gathered steam in Facebook pages dedicated to conspiracy theories and the anti-vaccine movement, most of which linked to the video hosted on YouTube. Then it tipped into the mainstream and exploded. Just over a week after “Plandemic” was released, it had been viewed more than eight million times on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and had generated countless other posts.
By 11 May, YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook took down the video, and in theory, it disappeared from the internet – only, of course, it hadn’t, in the time-honored way of subversive material in the networked world. The cognitive pathogen had escaped into the wild and was spreading virally.
While it is challenging to trace the origins of personal beliefs about the pandemic, it is noteworthy that the notion of a “plandemic”, alleging that the COVID-19 outbreak is a hoax or at least an exaggeration, has been spread by the pro-Kremlin media too. Multiple disinformation outlets have claimed that COVID-19 is a stunt by “Big Pharma” and a grand scheme of secret elites. The hashtag #пландемија in North Macedonia was also shared by anti – vaccers through Twitter and Facebook.
In the 26-minute video, a woman animatedly described an unsubstantiated secret plot by global elites like Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci to use the coronavirus pandemic to profit and grab political power. The same woman asserted how Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading voice on the coronavirus, had buried her research about how vaccines can damage people’s immune systems. It is those weakened immune systems, she declared, that have made people susceptible to illnesses like Covid-19. The woman is Dr. Judy Mikovits, a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute. Mikovits, before her work was discredited, was lauded in the late 2000s for her research on chronic fatigue syndrome. Mikovits makes several claims that are either unsupported or outright false.
Fact-checker PolitiFact highlighted eight false or misleading claims made in the video, including:
“I was held in jail with no charges”, this is inaccurate spin about Mikovits’ past legal problems. She was charged in 2011 with stealing computer data and related property from her former employer. The Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Reno, Nevada, fired Mikovits in September 2011 as research director after her study linking a mouse retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome was discredited and retracted by Science, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. In November 2011, the district attorney in Washoe County, Nevada, filed a criminal complaint against Mikovits for allegedly stealing computer data, notebooks and other property from the institute. Mikovits was briefly jailed in California on criminal charges. On June 11, 2012, the district attorney’s office filed a petition to dismiss the charges without prejudice.
“Hydroxychloroquine is effective against these families of viruses”, this is unproven. There is no cure or vaccine for SARS or the novel coronavirus. While some studies have found that hydroxychloroquine could mitigate some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, other research has found no such effect. With more than 50 studies in the works, as well as an NIH clinical trial, it’s too soon to say whether the drug is a viable treatment for the coronavirus. (The most recent study, a large-scale study of nearly 1,400 New York-area patients with moderate to severe COVID-19, found that patients fared no better by taking hydroxychloroquine.)
“If you’ve ever had a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses”, this is inaccurate. Similar claims have also been debunked by other fact-checkers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most flu vaccines in the United States protect against four different kinds of viruses: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and two influenza B viruses. Others protect against three kinds of flu viruses. There are no coronaviruses in the flu shot. And there are no human coronavirus vaccines.
“Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions.” This claim was maybe the most outrages and baseless one. There is no evidence to support this. We’re not sure what a “coronavirus expression” even is. The CDC advises anyone who goes out in public to wear a mask. Since it can take up to 14 days for an infected person to exhibit symptoms, the goal is to prevent unwittingly spreading the coronavirus through coughs and sneezes. Wearing a face mask prevents the spread of the coronavirus — it does not make people more susceptible to it. “There is nothing about wearing a mask that would have any biologically relevant impact on viral activity,” said Richard Peltier, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, in an email. “Wearing a mask simply catches the droplets before they reach our mouth or nose. It isn’t rocket science, and Dr. Mikovits should know that.”
The” Plandemic” documentary has turned the woman — Dr. Judy Mikovits, 62, a discredited scientist — into a new star of virus disinformation. So, when a Covid-19 vaccine does eventually arrive, conspiracy theorists will have a field day. Assuming they haven’t all died of the virus first.
Meral Musli Tajroska – Psychologist, Consultant on violent extremism and radicalization, an activist for gender equality.