NEW YORK (VINnews) — The advent of an unknown, mysterious, earthshaking pandemic is such an unfathomable event that it has served as a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of conspiracy theorists and deniers. Some have blamed the virus on Chinese labs, some on Bill Gates who appears to some people to have almost limitless power with his almost limitless money. Others have blamed 5G technology as the culprit, since the virus lockdown allows governments to establish more advanced communications technologies, as if collective governments have concocted a nefarious plot to keep people in lockdown and implement these technologies.
Some theorists admitted there is a virus but felt it is curable by consuming silver particles or drinking water with lemon prevents or cures you of the virus. None of these are true, but they could certainly cause people to delay going to hospital with real symptoms which could have potentially fatal consequences.
Dr. Duncan Maru, a physician and epidemiologist in Queens, New York, said he had heard from colleagues that a young patient had come into the emergency room last week with damage to his intestinal tract after having ingested bleach. The incident occurred just days after President Donald Trump suggested that “injection” of disinfectants should be researched as a potential coronavirus treatment.
“Folks delaying seeking care or, taking the most extreme case, somebody drinking bleach as a result of structural factors just underlines the fact that we have not protected the public from disinformation,” Maru said.
5G theorists have also wreaked havoc with their ideas. British MP Michael Gove said at a Downing Street press conference that the conspiracy theory linking 5G technology to the spread of coronavirus is ‘dangerous nonsense,’ after cellphone towers around the U.K. were attacked and burnt.
Most people not under the spell of social media would reject these theories as outright baloney, but conspiracy theorists have found a way to spread their disinformation copiously online and attempt to “cyberbrainwash” people into accepting their ideas.
For example, some theorists have been busy sowing seeds of doubts about COVID-19’s severity and denying the very existence of the pandemic.
Since March 28, conspiracy theorists —”coronavirus deniers — have been using the hashtag #FilmYourHospital to encourage people to visit local hospitals to take pictures and videos to prove that the COVID-19 pandemic is an elaborate hoax.
The premise for this conspiracy theory rests on the baseless assumption that if hospital parking lots and waiting rooms are empty then the pandemic must not be real or is not as severe as reported by health authorities and the media.
Of course there is an obvious explanation why some hospital parking lots and waiting rooms might have been empty. As part of pandemic planning, many hospitals have banned visitors and doctors have had to postpone or cancel elective and non-urgent procedures to free up medical staff and resources. This is in keeping with expert advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health authorities. However people may still wish to deny reality when it is too harsh for them to face it.
Brian Keeley, a professor of philosophy at Pitzer College in California who studies why people believe in conspiracy theories, said that some people in times of crisis look to far-fetched ideas with simple answers for complex problems.
Providing a straightforward, extinguishable enemy — whether it’s a well-known celebrity like Gates or a mysterious concept like 5G — gives conspiracy theorists hope, agency and power in a time of chaos. In reality, those recognizable, often mortal figures are simply scapegoats for an act of God.
“People are looking for these kinds of explanations to control something in their lives,” Keeley said.
For doctors like Dr. Hadi Halazun, working on the frontline in a New York hospital, these deniers can be frustrating and even maddening. After another long shift treating coronavirus patients, Dr. Hadi Halazun opened his Facebook page to find a man insisting to him that “no one’s dying” and that the coronavirus is “fake news” drummed up by the news media.
Hadi tried to engage and explain his firsthand experience with the virus. In reply, another user insinuated that he wasn’t a real doctor, saying pictures from his profile showing him at concerts and music festivals proved it.
“I told them: ‘I am a real doctor. There are 200 people in my hospital’s ICU,'” said Halazun, a cardiologist in New York. “And they said, ‘Give me your credentials.’ I engaged with them, and they kicked me off their wall.”
“I left work and I felt so deflated. I let it get to me.”
Keeley advises people to stay off Facebook and not engage deniers because of the “depression that comes from looking at that.”
“It’s sort of an informational quarantine,” he said. “You don’t want to be exposing yourself to a different kind of virus.”
Halazun has come to the same conclusion: Right now, it’s not worth it for a doctor to spend any time on Facebook.
“We’re limited in our emotional capacity. I’m not going to spend whatever I have left after a long day of work trying to convince a conspiracy theorist,” Halazun said. “They’re immune to any evidence. You’re not going to change their mind.”