Yesterday was DAY 22 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.
In this article I have chosen to address some of the conspiracy theories and disinformation that are being peddled and discuss why they are not contributing in any useful way to the COVID19 discourse. I also examine the potential dangers that not addressing the peddling of disinformation.
This has been inspired by watching the regular public updates from the Government and , and observing the persistently wrong information and sameness of questions that get asked by viewers.
Before I start, I need to be clear on what disinformation is versus misinformation, because the difference is substantial and so are the potential outcomes:
- MISINFORMATION – for me this is a cross between mistake and information and it stems from information that will likely have started as something that someone misheard/misread and never thought to check the veracity of it;
- DISINFORMATION – for me this is deliberately misleading information, the type that might be released to sow confusion by propaganda publishers; by individuals or organizations looking to create instability, distrust and division
The misinformation is generally not as harmful as disinformation. It more relates to aspects such as whether fast food places can reopen, whether hunting, and going for long distance drives, such as to ones secondary property. Despite the well publicized nature of the COVID19 information that the Government is releasing which is transmitted through many modes, the same questions seem to be getting asked by viewers daily. The means used include a website, daily public updates usually at 1300 hours, public adverts on television and social media many people are still asking questions that have been answered many times over.
I have wondered whether people on Twitter who seem to be advocating for New Zealand to hurry up with easing COVID19 restrictions are business owners watching their businesses wilting, libertarians who think the Government is over reacting or some kind agent. Some of them have tried to push their cases based on the percentage of people COVID19 infects and the number of deaths from those infections. I have been having trouble deciding which of the two groups they would go in: misinformants or disinformants? Or are they something else, altogether?
The disinformation however is much more serious. Disinformation is a concept coined by the US.S.R. under Josef Stalin in the 1920’s, when just before he became Premier, Mr Stalin had the K.G.B. black propaganda department use the term dezinformatsiya. An example of disinformation was the Soviet attempt to make the world believe that the United States created and released A.I.D.S.
In terms of COVID19 it is a deliberate attempt to undermine the response and potentially cause New Zealand to have a relapse in a few weeks or months time that we neither want, nor can afford. The people who carry out this kind of activity generally have a chip on their shoulders, with regards to society or want to see how far they can push disinformation before someone reports them to the authorities. Any organizations that deliberately push disinformation – I am not aware of any at the moment – need to be examined by authorities. Are they actors working on behalf of a foreign entity, government or organization that sees New Zealand and New Zealanders as some kind of threat?
Already we have seen how the conspiracy theory about COVID19 being linked to the controversial 5G cellphone bandwidth, can cause major problems. For me this is one of the more damaging examples of disinformation. It is well known COVID19 is not linked in any way to cellphone towers, but it has not stopped criminals from damaging them in the belief that they are. A cellphone tower in Northland was destroyed by vandals, allegedly in the belief that it was using the 5G bandwidth and therefore somehow threatened nearby communities with COVID19.