As Covid-19 cases rose amid an uptick in late summer, right-wing influencers and conspiracy theorists responded by stoking fears about mass lockdowns and spreading news unsubstantiated ideas about the links of Covid-19 to world events.
“Do they want anti-Covid measures to put us back on a war footing in anticipation of war with Russia? Right-wing personality Jack Posobiec told more than 150,000 subscribers on his Telegram channel.
There is little evidence that the current wave of Covid-19 cases will result in the type of extreme countermeasures seen at the worst of the pandemic. The nationwide share of Covid-19 cases peaked at 14.1% in August — matching most surges since the pandemic began — but hospitalizations were at near-historic levels.
Instead, authorities have responded with targeted efforts, noting that the country benefits from broader immunity, better treatments for the sick and more accessible testing that can help prevent surges from turning into full-blown crises.
But for conspiracy theorists and right-wing influencers online, each surge is an opportunity to sow fear and annoy their supporters, disinformation experts say. Use of the terms “plandemic” and “scam” – two terms describing Covid-19 as a ruse – increased sharply in August on right-wing websites, according to data from Pyrra, a company that monitors threats and disinformation on alternative social networks.
“I would almost say it’s an obsession for the anti-vaccination and Covid denialist community,” said Welton Chang, co-founder and CEO of Pyrra. “They just make mountains out of molehills for every little thing.”
Misinformation about Covid-19 is as old as the virus itself. It’s largely about vaccines: A third of Americans said they believe Covid-19 vaccines have caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people, according to a survey released in August by KFF, a non-profit research group. Although there is no link between Covid-19 vaccines and sudden deaths, conspiracy theorists have often circulated the idea as celebrities and athletes fell ill from unrelated causes.
In many right-wing online spaces, users still claim, without evidence, that the virus is a planned bioweapon, that vaccines contain microchips, or that unproven drugs offer simple cures for the virus’s symptoms.
As Covid-19 becomes recurrent like the flu, misinformation experts warn that the false and misleading ideas swirling around the pandemic will continue to evolve.
The latest misleading claims arose after comments from the Biden administration in late August, when it issued warnings about a wave of Covid-19 infections in the fall. Health officials have recommended that Americans get vaccinated against the new sub-variants using the next booster doses.
The reaction was rapid.
“RED ALERT!” made the front page this week of Infowars, the conspiratorial site run by Alex Jones, the right-wing fabulist. “White House announces plan to reinstate Covid tyranny.”
The increase in cases has also activated conservative politicians, who have found that criticizing lockdowns and mask mandates is a politically powerful message for Republican voters.
“No mask mandate,” Vivek Ramaswamy, a Republican running for the presidential nomination, told the Daily Signal, a right-wing news site. “No vaccine mandate. Never again confinement. »
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, said this month that the caseload surge was being exaggerated by Democrats to “distract people” from the party’s policy failures.
“We are going to have more Covid to increase hysteria and mass fear,” she said on Infowars, the conspiratorial talk show hosted by Mr Jones.
Former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, has asserted his opposition to vaccines and other countermeasures he once advocated as president.
He posted a video last week on Truth Social, his social network, claiming that concerns about Covid-19 variants were part of a ruse to reinstate mail-in voting policies used in the 2020 election.
“The left-wing lunatics are trying very hard to bring back Covid lockdowns and mandates with all their sudden fear-mongering about the new variants coming in,” he said. “Damn, you know what else is going to happen?” The next elections.