Covid Disinformation as Dangerous as the Coronavirus
It is not uncommon for narratives about COVID-19 vaccines to be spread on social media, which do not only undermine the confidence in their effectiveness but also contain conspiracy theories, i.e. unsubstantiated, unfounded claims about a small group of “villains” wanting to destroy the rest of the world. And all this to benefit the big pharmaceutical companies, but also for the realization of the alleged plan to reduce the world population. Very often, these anti-vaccination conspiracy theories make a distinction between vaccines that come from the West and those that come from Russia.
Author: Miroslava Byrns
In such a context, Western vaccines are the target of widespread conspiracy theories, most often attacking those of Pfizer and BioNTech, for which it is arbitrarily and tendentiously claimed to cause a number of health issues and even alter the genetic code.
During the few protests against vaccination in the Republic of North Macedonia, one could hear that the vaccines were “experimental”, although this is not true. All COVID vaccines used in the country are approved for use and are subject to control processes and clinical trials. It was also said that the “deep state” – as a synonym for the alleged political organization of the big enchilada – wanted to carry out mass depopulation of the planet, establish control over the population and enslave it.
In the war for supremacy over the citizens’ common sense, conspiracies were spread about the use of nanochips through which, allegedly, the population will be a subject of control in relation to their overall social life, although there is no room to insert a chip in the vaccine dose. The anti-coronavirus fluid that has saved thousands of lives and reduced the effects of the disease on the health of the world’s population has actually become a geopolitical virtual brawl between the anti-vaccination lobby and the rest of the world that has decided to get vaccinated. The part of the vaccinated population was often misrepresented as enslaved, coerced, and manipulated.
GLORIFICATION OF SPUTNIK AT THE ACCOUNT OF PFIZER
The fact that the Russian Sputnik V vaccine did not get approved for use in many Western countries was misused to glorify its effectiveness at the expense of one of the Pfizer vaccines.
The Delegation of the European Union to Azerbaijan has made a list of the most common pro-Kremlin misinformation that can be found on social networks and they do not differ at all from those that are already widespread in Macedonia.
The key narratives found in this misinformation are that vaccines are ineffective and harmful, conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and the “deep state,” glorification of the Russian domination and success arguing that the West discrediting the Russian vaccine as well as other conspiracies about the “villainous West” and Big Pharma.
A dazzling example of propaganda against Western vaccines, especially that produced by Pfizer, is that due to its different technique of working with the mRNA mechanism, it was untrue and falsely indicated as toxic to the body, as even a 40-day water-only fast was recommended for “detoxification”.
Unlike for the Pfizer vaccine, for which it has been persistently propagated that not only “magic potions” but even dangerous drugs should be used to save oneself after vaccination, there was no negative campaign for the Russian “Sputnik V” vaccine (regardless of the fact that it is based on a different technology).
SPREADING INSECURITY, FEAR AND DISTRICT
Communication expert Sead Jigal told Truthmeter that the purpose of misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines is often to destabilize the societies to which these disinformation campaigns are directed, by spreading insecurity, fear and distrust in the institutions of that society.
The consequences for public health are serious because these misinformation can polarize and fragment societies, but also significantly weaken and subject them to influence, dependence or control of an external factor. In today’s globally networked and integrated world, Manuel Castells’ term, the clash of geopolitical interests is often manifested in so-called “information wars” that are only part of the modern hybrid warfare, where you do not have to physically destroy or subdue the enemy to defeat it and win the “war.” It is enough to weaken it with “intoxication” of misinformation and it can be easily defeated, Jigal said.
When asked how can we protect ourselves from misinformation through media literacy, especially on social media, the communicologist points out that media literacy is a necessary factor in reducing the harmful effects of misinformation, by strengthening our “information immunity”, i.e. the ability to protect ourselves from manipulations and abuses of false information.
Media literacy raises awareness of the hazards of misinformation and helps develop specific skills to protect against it, such as checking information, recognizing manipulative content by practicing safe ways to seek and use information,” he explained.
COVID DISINFORMATION FROM SERBIA DEPICTED IN N. MACEDONIA
The fact that the Serbian language is easy to understand by many Macedonian citizens, contributed to the misinformation from the Serbian-speaking area to be easily transmitted and received in the country. According to research by the University of Journalism in Novi Sad, supported by the Deutsche Welle Academy in Serbia, misinformation incorrectly advising on how to cure the coronavirus comprises as much as 33% of all misinformation in Serbia.
The same narratives were depicted in the country that COVID is not a dangerous disease but a fraud, as well as that it could be treated with mouthwash, garlic, and saltwater. The magic list of quack treatments also indicated baking soda, and it was also claimed that if you drank rakija and wormwood jam, you would “kill the coronavirus”. However, it is not possible to accurately estimate the danger to public health from following such messages about the harmlessness of the coronavirus, so it is not known how many of the citizens fell prey to this propaganda.
Regarding these tips for “efficient” treatment of the coronavirus that was present in Serbia, and then as replicated in North Macedonia, the aforementioned analysis by the Journalism University in Novi Sad (page 24) states that “when a person faces a potential danger (coronavirus), then it activates the urgency instinct that leads it to immediate action.
Guided by this instinct, many citizens gave ineffective and even dangerous advice to prevent the coronavirus. A singer advised citizens to drink a combination of rakija and Fervex as a precaution, and via Viber and WhatsApp, a so-called “Israeli recipe” was spread according to which lemon and baking soda, mixed with hot water, “immediately kill the virus”. Alcohol, incense, water vapor and more were mentioned as a preventive measure or potential cure. The citizens sent such advice to each other, with the best intention, ignoring the origin of such advice and possible contraindications, according to the analysis of misinformation in Serbia.
Regarding the spread of false news during a COVID pandemic, the Head of the Political Department of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), Amer Kapetanovikj, said that it is almost as dangerous as the spread of the coronavirus.
The false story reaches people six times faster than the real one, and in times of crisis there is a tendency with a part of the population to believe in the rumors more than in the official information, as a result of the emotional reaction to the fear.
Thus, information continues to spread, and although most do so without ill intent and simply because they are not well-informed to recognize unverified information, it can still cause problems in the whole society. “When false information and misinformation are repeated and deepened, the real danger is that truth-based information will have a limited impact,” Kapetanovikj