Inside the COVID-Denialist Internet Bubble

My guiding principle when choosing the accounts was initially that they must have expressed skepticism about the severity of the virus and the need for a comprehensive response. I started following a few high-traffic personalities with whom I was already familiar, such as: Pro Trump acolytes Bill Mitchell and Sidney Powell and Jordan Sather, a “professional shit mixer” (how Rolling Stone in the bizarre QAnon conspiracy movement that says Trump is fighting shameful Deep State forces.

Every time I entered a new name, Twitter recommended that like-minded people follow. I was served names that were both less well known (like a former CIA officer on a “Mission to Detect the Deep State / Shadow Government”) and very familiar (Hello, Laura Ingraham and Sebastian Gorka). Some of them occupied very different parts of the info verse from each other, but they seemed to agree on the urge to defend the president and his handling of the crisis. I stopped expanding my bladder when it reached almost 70 accounts.

Throughout the week, I saw a clear line between people who largely live in the conservative landscape – like Ingraham and Mike Huckabee, who can’t resist trolling liberals, but really don’t question the risks of COVID right now -. and the people who have finally left the mainstream world behind. The former are looking for ways to fill gaps in the mainstream media consensus and in the president’s criticism, but they are still based on reality. With the others, however, it is impossible to imagine what combination of circumstances could pull them back into reality.

After spending long distances in this feverish silo, I have to report that even a devastating pandemic can not affect the human appetite for conspiracy ideas. Given the anxious, uncertain times we are in today, this may not be surprising. Scientists say that people who experience a lack of control in their lives sometimes turn to conspiracies to understand random, unfathomable events. “When disasters and tragedies occur, conspiracy theories may be more engaging – or less scary – than the reality of what is happening,” said Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan in an email.

Still, I was surprised to learn that some of the most notorious conspiracy promoters, such as Alex Jones from Infowars, did not deny the severity and spread of the coronavirus. (He is excluded from Twitter, but the people I followed managed to take me to his website where I could watch his streaming show.) To put it bluntly, Jones, who is notorious for this, Having wrongly pointed out that numerous mass shootings have taken place does not change his ways; He still spits out ridiculous conspiracies about the origins and effects of the pandemic.

Jones’ recognition that the virus is more serious than an ordinary flu virus stands in contrast to some other extreme right-wing figures and QAnon promoters in my bladder who angrily argued differently – even after Trump’s own reality check. This divergence has highlighted something else that impressed me: how many conspiracy stories are spread in response to the pandemic, as if they were being tested to see which ones stay.

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It was Tuesday, March 17, hours after a White House press conference on the virus, when I opened my fake Twitter account. One of the first retweets that flashed across my laptop screen came from a libertarian activist (@erasethestate) who misleading compared Flu and coronavirus statistics, something Trump had done before many times. But this was also the same day that the President dismissed his carefree stance on the pandemic. Would corona virus minimizers like @erasethestate orientate themselves to Trump and abandon this insincere approach?

Barely. Bill Mitchell, a vocal Trump supporter with 547,000 followers, shown often in my feed too regret the coronavirus “fear porn”. It was a symbol for many in the far right of my bubble who accused the media of “hyping” the pandemic. Like @erasethestate, Mitchell has often associated the high number of flu deaths and hospitalizations with those for coronaviruses – without mentioning that the latter are viewed by the medical authorities as such contagious and deadly. It will be interesting to see when or whether Mitchell will ever pick up on his stubborn stance, which is vividly depicted in it Tweet::

Not everyone in my feed was as adamant as Mitchell. For example, Sara Carter, a Fox News worker who Twitter suggested to me, wanted to do both in her direction Podcast. “I don’t know if it’s just me,” she began in a recent episode. “I almost have the feeling that there is this strange overreaction.” Then in the next breath she remarked: “Italy is really suffering” before saying again unmistakably: “We may be overreacting for a good reason, but there is also this problem where it has been politicized.”

Carter’s blurriness made it difficult to understand where she was. To a certain extent, however, it is understandable if some of their listeners and followers feel confused about what to think. If you’re obsessed with the outbreak news, watching the panic among real-world doctors, the fear of people watching their work, and the disappearance of 401 (k), seniors, and even 30-year-olds who are struggling for their lives with ventilators , this can be annoying to read tweet after tweet, suggesting that this is not a big deal at all. But if you are not yet affected by the disease and do not want to stay for people you have never met, it is a certain amount of relief to occupy a world in which the situation is under control and the response to it is too gone far.

While both MAGA types and QAnon enthusiasts in my bladder were suspicious of the pandemic and its root cause, they expressed different reasons. Mitchell indicated that the spread of the virus was a form of China’s bio-terrorism. Some in the QAnon crowd who saw the rush to develop a virus-fighting vaccine fingered for-profit pharmaceutical companies as guilty. While loathing Big Pharma, Jordan Sather accuses other black hats that are closer to home after seeing this Tweet from Trump:

Most people have probably understood that Trump describes a microscopic pathogen as a “hidden enemy”. But Sather decrypted the real meaning in his YouTube show. “What could it mean?” Sather asked with a grin as he stroked his chin. “I think you know exactly what he means. He speaks of the deep state cabal that is currently infecting our planet – obviously. “The QAnon movement, which triggered the disturbed Pizzagate episode during the 2016 elections, is obsessed with exterminating alleged Deep State actors and A-List pedophiles who, according to QAnon, control Hollywood and the real levers of government power.

When I was in my bladder, an anonymous QAnon fan on Facebook claimed that Oprah Winfrey was arrested for running a sex ring for children. It was absurd and easily unmasked, but the rumor spread so widely on the Internet that Winfrey felt compelled to do so reply on twitter. Even more insane, according to several news reports in the Facebook post, that other celebrities like Tom Hanks have also been arrested, but a covert intelligence operation has triggered the coronavirus epidemic to distract the world from bringing them and a satanic cabal to justice.

Towards the end of my time in the bubble, a retweet flashed across my laptop screen that contained a screenshot of something Alex Jones had said on his Infowars show. Jones leads a lucrative multimedia empire that has been dealing with unusual conspiracies for two decades. He was successfully sued by parents of Sandy Hook’s shooting victims for alleging that the tragic event did not actually take place. After one of my followers tweeted a blurb from his show, I clicked on Jones’ livestream when he was starting one of his typical monologues on the flow of consciousness.

“The world is going to martial law,” he says in his croaky voice, playing out the travel restrictions that were put in place to quell the pandemic. “Criminals, armed robbers, rapists, tens of thousands of them are all released from prison.” Every word of it is, of course, wrong, as is what he says a few minutes later: “If your neighbors see you coughing, you will be taken away for six weeks. … This is how the West dies. This is how America dies, so everything unfolds.”

No wonder Jones doesn’t deny the severity of the corona virus. he uses it to witlessly scare his listeners – for his own benefit.

Jones, wearing a blazer and sitting behind his faux TV studio in Austin, Texas, stopped abusing him about every 10 minutes to sell his line of supplements and other products. He sells everything from toothpaste and coffee (called “Wake Up America”) to sleeping pills (“knock-out”). I tried listening to two of his shows on consecutive days, but I couldn’t get far, especially after hearing that he took his supplements as a life and death necessity for people to survive the pandemic. “Guys, they want to train you to sit there and die in your house,” he said. “Get the boost you and your family need. Many things are sold out, many things come in. We now have the additions. You should get your orders better. Do not wait. ”

Excited by his shamelessness, I slammed my laptop shut and thought about the wrong world I had created on Twitter and YouTube. I was concerned about the realization that not even a monumental humanitarian crisis can stop some charlatans from exploiting people’s fears of profit.

If you want to hear that the virus is not a big deal, maybe even a fake, you don’t have to build your own bubble. Here’s your shortcut: At the moderate end, the virus is real and scary among media-skeptical pro-Trump people, but also liberal overreaches, open borders, government spending, breathless fear of public health, and criticism of Trump. Let’s call it Full QAnon at the very end. The outbreak was developed by Chinese scientist Big Pharma or criminal celebrities, and may or may not be real.

This weekend I took a last look back at my Twitter bubble to see if the events on the ground had changed any of the hard-nosed thoughts that I had been following for days. But everyone seemed to be caught up in their changed or alternative reality. The cocoon had no bulge for the time being.

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