Much of the government’s job so far has been to keep the mad crowd happy.
Make sure enough of them are happy and you will hit the quota in your constituency on election day – what everyone else thinks or says about you becomes irrelevant, if your skin is thick enough.
Bring a pandemic and public health into the political mix, and the popularity of politicians now lies not only in keeping the public happy, but also safe.
This week, as the numbers did their thing and the hours were cut off from the opening hours of nightlife, the audience roar was palpable.
Business owners worry, âWhat’s next? Lobbyists with special interests, of which public health is not a part, have made their voices heard in the blame game.
Ordinary Joe Soaps thoughts have gone to Christmas. A severely restricted Christmas of just two households, with no overseas travel, was enough for a lifetime. “I can’t do this again,” exclaimed the audience. People have been booking pantos, visits to Santa Claus and afternoon teas since September.
There was also public criticism of the slow rollout of the vaccine booster program, and then there was the wild west of social media misinformation.
On the side of things, we had 2FM DJ Carl Mullan serving us some much-needed light relief comedy videos – depicting the desperation of a worn out nation. Mullan nailed the mood of the nation.
Then there were the conspiracy theories going around, from people acting like pseudo-scientists or activists to their thousands and thousands of followers.
These followers in their wear and tear and daily regimen of memes and reels and the pithy picture quotes from the ‘Gram, yearn for everything, mobilized by the idea that there is something bigger and darker at play. here a semi – I thought they were being played.
“Cui bono? – Who benefits? is a common refrain of those who sell conspiracies. Their followers, in turn, repeat the phrase like a parrot.
There is nothing new about conspiracy theories. The only novelty is that the ongoing Covid saga is proving to be fertile ground for them.
But scratch the surface of historical conspiracy theories and you will find that they have always been used to create a path of radicalization by far-right movements around the world.
Put simply, there are people who make big money and gain lots and lots of followers, building a big following, you could say, by weaving dissenting stories out of everything Covid has to do with it. So who benefits now?
These types of people are called “Internet crooks” in some circles. They make money out of people’s vulnerability, desperation and worry. They are not politicians and therefore have no public responsibility. They are neither publishers nor broadcasters and are therefore in no way responsible under defamation laws or press councils.
Social media companies are their overlords, and the last time I checked we’re still waiting for strong regulation there.
These crooks knowingly spread false information in the Wild West that is the Internet. They create a tribal feeling of “us” against “them”. Their audience absorbs unverified information, ignoring both its origin and its intent.
Quassim Cassam, professor of philosophy at the University of Warwick and author of the 2019 book Conspiracy theories, argues that much of the literature on conspiracy theories misses some pretty obvious points – that conspiracy theories are a form of propaganda.
He gave a public lecture in Ireland on conspiracy theories as part of a UCD initiative this year. In it, he describes several major conspiracy theories in today’s world:
- The Great Replacement (the conspiracy theory that immigrants coming to Europe will replace white Christians);
- Soros ‘Migrant Caravan (a conspiracy theory that billionaire George Soros funded migrants’ trips to the United States);
- QAnon (a group of conspiracy theories targeting âthe liberal eliteâ in America);
- Sandy Hook (a conspiracy theory that the 2012 fatal American school shooting did not take place);
- The moon landing (a conspiracy theory that the 1969 moon landing was a NASA hoax)
âAsk yourself what is the political agenda for each of these conspiracy theories? Said the professor.
The Great Replacement and the Migrant Caravan of Soros are anti-immigrant. QAnon is anti-democrat. Sandy Hook was started in opposition to tighter gun control in America. And the moon landing is anti-state.
“Each of these theories has a political agenda,” said Professor Cassam.
They do not only have political consequences or significance – they are, in essence, forms of political or ideological propaganda. This is their main function. “
And now we have Covid and the vast array of deliberate disinformation that goes with it. It’s so easy to dismiss friends and family who may repeat these theories, but the real job is to keep track of the money and IP address these stories are emanating from.
The UN has called this campaign of disinformation which runs parallel to the pandemic an “infodemic”.
In the UK, new research from the University of Cambridge has shown that a significant percentage of people believe in conspiracy theories.
About 50% of this population [2,501 people surveyed] showed little evidence of conspiratorial thinking, 25% showed a level of approval, 15% showed a consistent pattern of approval, and 10% had very high approval levels, âthe research paper reads .
Before, we only got our news from print, wireless, and then television. What we read was on paper, held in our hands, while a child played next to you or a family member made dinner.
What we listened to or watched was done in unison or in a shared space like an office or living room. It was not consumed in digital isolation or in a virtual void, without accountability.
If we were particularly upset, we could write to the editor if we found ourselves wronged by an article. We could phone a radio show – many still do – or we could complain to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
Have we ever felt offended or wronged by a post we see on social media and want to hold its anonymous creator or your friend who shared it to account?
When we receive a lie through the closed WhatsApp network, there is no Joe Duffy to call or an editor to write to. This is where these lies breed, thrive and spread, unchecked – their creators are unaccountable.
Politicians are fallible. Some, over the years, have proven their intentions to be ambiguous.
Healthy skepticism, in general, is about right. But cynicism is a free jail release card where âeveryone and everything is wrong, but I am absolved from providing solutions, actions or careâ. Cynicism and conspiracies leave all the work unfinished, neglected.
As the raving crowd lashes out at WhatsApp groups and on social media – denouncing politicians and scientists – doctors and nurses will be working overtime this Christmas to make sure the rest of us stay on. life. Their only job is to keep us safe, and they don’t even need our vote.
In the age of disinformation, we need to think twice about our source of information. Is there a name attached? Who is responsible if it is incorrect? Do they have the well-being of people at heart?
And what is the consequence for me to share it, if I am not sure of any of these?