A vaccine against fake news, so you can tell real from fake on the fly…
Written 28 August 2021.
Featured image sourced from Cottonbro of pexels.com .
Content warning: Pandemic discussion
Part 2 available here: “Organising Against Disinformation”.
Are you receiving calls to reject mainstream news? Are you not sure who to trust? Have you seen posts from Facebook friends saying that COVID is bringing fear, obedience and mind control?
Ever seen stickers or pamphlets equating masks and vaccines to slavery and poison?
I have seen all of these things too. They make me feel uneasy and scared.
And even more so when I know that people uncritically act on these things and can endanger people I care for. It’s ok to say that the pandemic is making you fearful.
But aggressively shunning this fear to reject science and to treat immunocompromised or other vulnerable communities as collateral damage to a pandemic is not ok.
I’m Keeara and I am a final year Law and Politics and International Relations student. My speciality is political communication, extreme political views and political violence.
I myself used to be a fan of conspiracy theories when I was younger, before I did debating in high school, I was revelling in a ‘secret truth’, it made me feel intelligent and edgy, but I understand that now, my naivete was exploited. Over the years, I have studied cases of what turns well-meaning, cosmopolitan and educated people into those who justify taking the lives of others or in joining social movements with aims in rejecting civic participation into modern day society and safe communities.
I hope to make this information available, clear and accessible.
Here is my guide, my cheatsheet against fake news, misinformation and disinformation. It is in part street smarts, history and political communication theory. This guide will likely not change the mind of a conspiracy believer, but will hopefully plant seeds in them to perhaps think differently over time. My aim for this guide is to help strengthen a sense of confidence as you communicate with your communities. My hope is that by the end, you can keep this and can automatically detect misinformation. This will hopefully help you and loved ones make informed decisions on how to care for one another in unstable and distressing world events.
Approaching Posts and Conversations With Loved Ones
1) Familiarise yourself with core arguments and the basis of misinformation arguments.
Figure out which ones you should draw the line at with family and friends as being inherently dehumanising or with violent political ideologies.
For example, in conversations about the pandemic, employing Politics of Hygiene, such as saying all of one ethnic group is dirty and spreading the virus is a tool that has been used to violently shun and exclude. We might also think about how some think that the pandemic is a plan by ‘Jewish Elites’ to bring about a ‘New World Order’, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory which is older than Nazi Germany and has been used to vilify Jewish communities and justify their expulsion and elimination from society (George Soros haters, on NZ conspiracy groups, who don’t know who he is other than the fact he is Jewish, I’m
looking glaring at you).
If someone you know has a ‘call to violence’ in what they are saying, or a historical echo to generalising a group with aggression, that is a sure flag that they have been exploited by a disinformation agenda. Know these arguments and expose them as such.
2) Establish your boundaries and stay true to these in conversation.
People who stay true to their boundaries are those who care for themselves and value their wellbeing.
A boundary you can have can be as we mentioned in the previous example, that you can leave a conversation where people are dehumanising others or where your conversation companion does not believe in human rights standards.
3) Be aware of fallacies.
Something I tell my friends is that high school debating prepared me for the world in being able to know how to argue and to be persuasive, without the use of fallacies. Fallacies are type of common argument fault which can appear to represent a view well, but are deeply flawed forms of reasoning.
There are many categories of these which are common not only in politics, but namely media which can be sensationalist or evoke strong emotional responses such as anger. I have also seen these in posts which link 5G to mind-control and the spread of COVID-19. Be sure to know these well, it’s also fun to discuss with your family and friends what these are and to watch debates or read articles to identify these fallacies.
4) Examining Written Information and Social Media News
Look for a factual source. And just because someone has ‘Dr.’ in front of their name does not necessarily mean they are credible, I once saw a post linking electromagnetism to infectious diseases, only to see that in their hidden About section, they wrote, ‘My title is Dr. as that is the title I identify as and see as appropriate to my expertise. I am not a physician nor do I have a doctorate.’ In addition, expertise in one area does not mean that their word is law in all things, I have seen professionals in the legal community defend Ivermectin as a cure for COVID-19. Look for where they are getting information from and if their arguments are both sound and cogent against academic rigours.
5) For sources, have an awareness of the character, branding and country of origin.
Think about the aims of that source. Not all news networks are built the same, for instance, R.T is known to be pro-Russia with an anti-social progressiveness lens, whereas D.W News of Germany tends to be critical of multiculturalism and immigration. News sources will be a step ahead of credibility than say, Joe Bloggs or a self-appointed Doctor, but it pays to know the character and aims of particular national media groups. Look at facts and how they build into a narrative.
6) Corroborate your sources.
Can you find these sources in other places? Consistent sources from factual places are a good sign that these are correct.
7) Where does the news piece or post come from?
Is it an advertisement for something? Is it from a news outlet backed by a particular political lobby group or a magnate with a strong leaning? He who pays the piper plays the tune.
8) Don’t give up!
Just because it’s impossible to find news completely sterile and free from bias does not mean to completely reject conventional news immediately and turn to fringe beliefs and Facebook posts in groups made by individuals. This is one of the main ways I have seen well-meaning people turn to groups which have been an entryway into conspiracies.
How to Be Street Smart
9) Be careful of people who are insistent on pushing their beliefs on to you.
Be wary if their views are ones which are almost completely built on strong emotional responses, especially anger and lack of solidarity and aid towards others.
10) Be wary if people frame the information as a ‘secret truth’.
This means that the group is likely isolated from external influences as to avoid criticism and has a mindset to recruit more people.
11) Just because someone has a different view, does not necessarily mean everything that comes from them is automatically wrong.
I have seen people who have had anti-globalist views who dislike the United Nations for example to use this as a basis for rejecting all scientific information about the contagiousness of COVID-19. You can disagree with a group or news outlet and have a combinations of other factors of their group which are also corroborated.
12) Lookout for the ‘Everyman Vs The Elite’ Dichotomy.
This is a common frame of misinformation posts, claiming that there is a Shadowy Board of Elite Figures who have nefarious intentions for the human race. While I encourage questioning authority, when distrust of the Elite (and not identifying who they are or what they are doing or what their intentions are) turns into hiding from all news as the boogeyman, this is a dangerous place to be. Any fight against a generalised and ill-defined enemy is only a fight which has exploited you into a pawn and caused you to take your education and learning for granted.
13) Trust your gut feeling if something makes you feel upset or if you feel as though it has bad intentions.
14) Uncle Google can help.
Google is a great way to know what sources are affiliated with which views and if there are any existing lawsuits and controversies over misinformation, running a pyramid scheme, racial discrimination, nationalism and so on.
Don’t Be A Sucker
15) Know your history around times of political tension, because it’s bound to repeat!
Many of the ways by which many well-meaning people are caught up in wellness to conspiracy theories as a pipeline to the far right are analogous to citizens at the time of Benito Mussolini’s Fascism and the rise of Nazism in Europe.
Our new generation of conspiracy fans are not necessarily Dale Gribble clones, but young people and parents in wellness or New Age festival circles. Such arguments from these groups have included that people will die regardless, so it will make sense that strong and healthy people survive the pandemic.
This is akin to the concept of Mussolini’s New Man, of someone of peak mental and physical qualities, virile and as the symbol of masculinity and health. The New Man would be a symbol of pride to transform into. An ideal of wellness was then a gateway into a masculine ideal, but when there is an ideal, there will be people excluded from it and violently so. With the “people will die anyway” arguments, I can’t help but think of ableism at ‘best’ and eugenics at worst.*
Secondly, if you have seen conspiracies of a more New Age persuasion or with more mystical pandemic goals such as a greater struggle between good and evil, you may want to think about the story of Savitri Devi, a new age spiritualist who used her views as a pipeline to Nazism. Finding spiritual meaning as a warrior for cosmic battle is a narrative which parallels that of QAnon, but in also how Devi’s spiritualism and proponents used this to deny the suffering of Jewish communities and lower-caste groups in India. Perhaps it then sounds familiar that conspiracy followers may deny the suffering of COVID-19 stricken communities in order to fulfil their sense of a part in their meaning in a battle of spiritual importance.
It’s a scary world to be in. But when we think about who we are, our communities and the people who have been exploited by conspiracies, we are all people who might feel isolated, we are sad, we want our lives back, we want the sense of certainty and happiness with our lives. And when we know this is what brings us together, we need to think about if we are pushed into spaces of anger and secret truths, if that brings us closer to our goal. And I can say from what I have seen, this anger and secret truth has only torn us apart.
We want to use our knowledge and skills to support others who are feeling isolated. We want to be calm, focused and to be critical thinkers, not dismissive thinkers. When you plant a seed for yourself or others, you are doing your part to make sure that essential workers are valued, that people with disabilities or immune-deficiencies are not treated as collateral damage, that marginalised communities are getting correct information and that we can build back communities stronger than ever.
30 August 2021
*I wish to clarify that ableism is intolerable in any form and that society should be aware of its different forms. My apologies if this was not clear in the initial edit.
31 August 2021
Thank you friends for your support! I am looking to put this article in a printable format. I am looking for friends who can translate this in their language, so we can get the word out to community groups and others in need. Please get in touch via social media or email, I would love to hear from you. You will be paid for your efforts.
Do you have any questions for me for a future cheatsheet? I can be contacted via my Facebook page or Instagram under KforKindling. Take care, I would love to hear from you.