Misinformation seems to be mutating at a quicker pace these days.
No one was stoked when the Omicron strain of coronavirus was discovered at the end of November, but most of us weren’t exactly surprised. Viruses mutate — that’s just science. But conservative anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists chose to take this mutation as more evidence that there is a massive undercover plot behind coronavirus. It seems like conspiracy theories are mutating in lockstep with the virus, and getting more transmissible and outlandish as they evolve.
Back in July, a particularly misleading video surfaced that supposedly proved that W.H.O. and other global health organizations were systematically releasing new strains of COVID-19. The slide deck shows the names of the next variants and their supposed “release dates.” It has been debunked over and over, but started recirculating again a few weeks ago when Omicron became more of a concern because it supposedly proves that Omicron is not a naturally occurring mutation with a totally predictable name, but is instead the next step in a nefarious deception.
The thing is that even if you buy into the theory that the health agencies charged with protecting us are out to get us by systematically releasing increasingly more deadly forms of coronavirus — which is, to put it kindly, not credible — the video itself doesn’t even line up with real world events. According to the slides, Omicron wasn’t set to launch until May 2022.
Other “theories” suggest that Omicron was created to distract from the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell because — get this — important unnamed officials are so committed to continuing their child sex trafficking rings that they are willing to infect people with a new variant to keep their operations mum. If that reads like shades of Pizzagate, wait til you hear about the pastor who says that Omicron is God’s punishment for convicting him of sex trafficking.
Unfortunately, my ongoing struggle to fight fear and insanity with logic and science is probably futile. Trying to combat misinformation with facts just doesn’t hook us the way farfetched plots do. Some experts think the careful attempts of officials to make sure we have correct information may continue to fall flat. “It’s not very compelling because it doesn’t necessarily make us feel better, it doesn’t attack that emotional element that makes misinformation so sticky,” said Rachel Moran, a professor at the University of Washington who studies how online information influences people’s beliefs, told the Washington Post.
According to that logic, conspiracy theories are compelling not because they make people feel better, but because they kick up their emotions in a way that a just-the-facts approach does not. If that’s the case, I’m afraid we have a wild ride ahead of us as anti-vax conspiracies become more and more virulent.