Alfred Dawes | It wasn’t me!
In an article I wrote that was published in The Gleaner on February 5, 2020, I stated that “the danger with the coronavirus is the panic it will cause if it gets here. This is made infinitely worse by the rapid dissemination of fake news via social media.” I went on to write that “ … when you are no longer the trusted expert, that circulating voice note becomes the truth. As a people, we must not be quick to jump to conclusions about everything shared on social media. Some will create fake news to create panic for no reason. For others, it will be playing political football. In the end, there are experts employed for the sole reason to keep us safe from these viruses and to limit the harm they cause. Have a bit more faith in them than that forwarded message by an anonymous author.”
In rereading that article, it is eerie how accurately it predicted what would come to pass as the COVID-19 pandemic took root in Jamaica. However, the M. Night Shyamalan plot twist was that I would be a victim in a voice note spreading misinformation using my name as the author.
Imagine someone forwarding a voice note to you saying that people are saying that it was you delving into outlandish conspiracy theories chock full of questionable or downright inaccurate science. You laugh it off and joke about how insulted you are that they would think you are so dunce. You blissfully go to bed. The next morning you begin to receive hundreds of messages about the voice note from friends all over the world. What is worse is that random people begin to attack you for the contents without verifying their authenticity. On top of that, you start to receive accolades from anti-vaxxers for being their champion and saying what needs to be said about this plandemic and fascist Government! The speed at which the calls and messages came in was unbelievable. When something goes viral in a population with as large a diaspora as Jamaica, it is a pandemic.
No matter how fast the measures to counteract the misinformation were put out, the reach of that wretched voice note outpaced them. Whoever was behind it hit the motherload with this one. Even as I write, there are still unanswered messages on my phone. Embolden anti-vaxxers are still saying that it was yours truly speaking, but I was “paged” by the Government, got paid off, or was terrified of losing my job. Without even any checks to see if there was anyone who could fire me from Carivia or Windsor, that theory took hold and dismissed all attempts at clearing my name. I quickly gave up arguing with some on social media and started blocking people like a crazed Dikembe Mutombo. Even as the madness persists, there are valuable lessons for me and others wondering why people would think to spread misinformation.
In analysing the loudest anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and COVID-19 deniers, one thing became evident. It was not that they were simply against the vaccine and masks. If that were the case, they could simply opt out of taking the vaccine in that scenario, but they are loud because it is more about showing how much smarter they are than all of the “sheeple”. If I am against something that other people do to themselves that has no bearing on me, why would I need to shout from a soapbox pedestal that they are gullible idiots? I can simply preserve my belief system by not complying with a completely voluntary exercise. Simple. But it’s not simple. Conspiracy theorists do a lot of research mainly comprising YouTube videos made by other conspiracy theorists and gather little nuggets of truth wrapped in layers of lies. It is impossible to convince them that what they believe has no basis in science. Instead, you are stonewalled by the Dunning Kruger effect and severe manifestations of cognitive dissonance. They need to show you that they are more intelligent than you are, and that is the driving force behind their actions, not that they are trying to help anyone.
DUPED BY NASA
There is a growing movement that believes that the Earth is flat and we are duped by NASA and clandestine operators who control Governments. They take pride in ridiculing “Globeheads” who believe the information fed to them by the Government. Analysis of this subgroup finds their extremism to be only slightly different from COVID-19 deniers. They are commonly persons whose manifested success in life falls short of their expectations, and their limited route to self-actualisation involves constructing scenarios in which their alignment with hidden truths elevates them above those whose conspiracy IQs are lesser, in spite of society’s acceptance of their classic self-actualisation markers. It is impossible to argue with someone in that zone. You just cannot win them over with meritorious points. It is best to accept their position that you are a mindless sheep and move on.
The misinformation war will last as long as there are black-swan events in life. Unfortunately, the loudest voices will win over some with their potpourri of facts and falsehoods. That is the danger we face today as we try to combat the virus and the viral. The monkey’s paw may, however, get us to herd immunity by the end of summer but not in the way we hoped for. That is the sad reality of the world we live in where the good thing is that everyone has a voice, and the bad thing is that everyone has a voice.
- Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.