Anti-Mask Conspiracies Are Spreading Like a Virus
These theories are creating a new pandemic and it’s catching like wildfire
Every time I log onto Facebook or other social media sites, I am welcomed by the malevolent presence of anti-mask theories. People’s aunts and uncles who believe that the government is using Covid-19 to enforce a totalitarian world. The old classmate who insists that wearing a mask shows a complete lack of the ability to ‘think for one’s self’ and that we all need to ‘open our eyes to what is really going on’.
What is really going on, is that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Even if there were the slight possibility that it could be a myth, surely the minor inconvenience of wearing a mask when you go to pick up some bread would be worth it, if only to eliminate the risk of your relatives dying.
People have the right to believe their own theories and ideas about this virus, yet what oversteps the line, is when they choose to go against government-mandated measures which could prevent illness and even death. A young, fit and healthy person, may have no qualms with flouting rules which they believe are unnecessary, as the consequences which could occur if their theories were wrong will not really affect them directly.
However, if their error in judgement caused them to contract Covid-19, which they were then to pass on to an elderly relative, their mistake will begin to hit them.
If I believed that smoking did not actually cause cancer and the studies that had been created to prove this was false, I may choose to smoke and risk my own health. I would not, however, let my young child smoke, as the small possibility that my theory was wrong, could greatly harm someone I am meant to protect.
These seemingly harmless Facebook posts, which take you all of ten seconds to share, are in fact creating a pandemic of a different kind. These theories, present themselves in a fascinating and factual way, that draws you in and seeks for you to believe them. When you fall for it’s intended purpose and share this theory, you are allowing another fifty people on your friends list to become infected by these false claims, who will then spread it to a further fifty people.
If I could predict the R number of these conspiracy theories, I would say that it could be even higher than that Covid-19 itself. This is proven, by the fact that countries like New Zealand can control the outbreak, whilst other countries cannot.
Yes, there is a large factor of the country’s own way of managing the virus, and the measures they are taking to reduce it, yet it also has a lot to do with the citizens themselves. The rules the governments set out to protect their people, will only work if the people themselves adhere to them. Unfortunately, due to the worrying amount of misinformation that is being spread, such as Covid-19 was a plot set out to shield us from dark and corrupt things which are happening, people simply do not feel it is necessary to follow government guidelines.
For example, there was a ‘Unite For Freedom’ march in Trafalgar Square, London, on the 29th of August. The protesters came in their masses with over 10,000 people in attendance, to state their views on the falsehood of the virus.
Signs at the event showed messages such as ‘do not comply’ or ‘masks are muzzles’. It is so shocking, that the inconvenience of wearing a mask, is so much more debilitating than the risk of harming someone else, even someone they love.
So why are these theories spreading so quickly and easily?
Lantian et al. say that:
“In terms of cognitive processes, people with stronger conspiracy beliefs are more likely to overestimate the likelihood of co-occurring events, to attribute intentionality where it is unlikely to exist, and to have lower levels of analytic thinking”.
It is this lack of analytical thinking, which makes the theories spread so easily. People read a piece of information and do not think to fact check what they are reading. If the information suits their agenda, they will go with it and believe it. Their lack of analytical skills, prevent them from differentiating between absurd beliefs and ones that are likely to be true.
Lantian et al. continues to add that:
“We argue that people high in need for uniqueness should be more likely than others to endorse conspiracy beliefs because conspiracy theories represent the possession of unconventional and potentially scarce information. […] Moreover, conspiracy theories rely on narratives that refer to secret knowledge (Mason, 2002) or information, which, by definition, is not accessible to everyone, otherwise it would not be a secret and it would be a well-known fact”.
It is this need to appear special, which also allows the virus of these anti-mask theories to spread so rapidly, as people like to go against the grain of what the masses believe. They have this need to appear heroic, as if their post explaining that the virus is a hoax will open the eyes of many and save the world from peril.
Being part of a movement that rebels against the government, allows people to feel revolutionary and important, yet the concerning fact is, that their need to be unique is at the detriment of many. Spreading this misinformation is just as bad, if not worse than refusing to wear a mask. Especially people with a large audience.
Conspiracy theorist David Icke, suggests theories such as the 5G network being responsible for the virus, as well as claiming that it is not possible to catch the virus by shaking hands.
A group called the CCDH (Center for Countering Digital Hate) wrote an open letter to call for David Icke’s social media accounts and platforms to be removed, which was successful when his Facebook account was deleted. They claimed that videos of Icke spreading these dangerous views have been viewed more than 30 million times, which is an alarming number.
If even only 3.3% of his viewers believe what he is saying, that is still a million people. Those 1 million people, will then go on to spread the theories, which can catch like wildfire. If David Icke was to go into a shop without a mask despite having the virus, there is the possibility that he would infect the twenty or so people in the shop at the time. However, making a video exhibiting his claims could have a much more harmful effect.
This proves that sharing your anti-mask theories is not as harmless as you think. One post has the opportunity to reach a multitude of people and by spreading information that you have not had the agency to fact check, you are in fact potentially risking the health of others. Everyone, no matter their audience, has the responsibility to check and research their theories before sharing them to others, especially online.
It is completely irresponsible to share something that you found without checking it’s authenticity because it could have a very harmful effect if others choose to believe your claims and start to flout measures that were taken to save lives.
I have seen people share things plenty of times, only to have someone disprove their theory in the comments with studies and medical reports. The poster then has no stance to fight back, because they know that they shared something which they have no evidence to back up. It proves that so many people are quick to believe claims without any evidence, which is very dangerous.
Whether you believe in the virus or not is your own choice, yet following the guidelines that are set out to protect people is your duty as a moral human being. Wearing a mask, or not going to large parties is an inconvenience, yes, but it does not take away your autonomy, it does not make you a ‘slave’ or a ‘sheep’. Doing these deeds, even if you don't think they are necessary, shows that you are willing to make a small sacrifice to help others.
If you choose to ignore this then you are selfish, and if your relative catches Covid-19 and is hospitalized, only then will you realise the severity of your actions. Only then, will you realise that the possibility of your theory being wrong should have meant that you took precautions anyway.