Mark *, a mental health professional in Malta, has infiltrated the country’s COVID-19 conspiracy community, inserting himself into more than 12 groups in Malta and abroad.
Here are his top eight takeaways from his three months in the “parallel pandemic”:
1. The network is larger and more hidden from the public eye than you might think
Mark had around 100,000 active participants in the conspiracy groups he joined – but none of them were on Facebook. They were on covert, invitation-only messaging networks like Telegram, Signal, Viber, and Threema.
“Malta has only around 950 members, but there is a real rallying behind each individual user,” he said.
Users escape Facebook’s policies against fake news in an environment that cannot be controlled and gives them a space for mutual support and interaction.
2. Algorithms are to blame
Unfortunately, networks are designed to feed users more of the same – and human nature dictates that fear and anger are more eye-catching.
“I have noticed in the past that algorithms can be influenced, but it takes constant effort over a period of several months to do so. Once successful, you can simply exist in another world.
The conspirators ask themselves: “How can the others not see this? It’s so obvious there, and in your face ”.
“But it’s just a computer simulation that feeds you content and slowly erodes and distorts your worldview,” Mark said.
And the fallacy that Facebook, for example, creates is that everyone is controlled by algorithms and confirmation bias. “Even seasoned researchers can fall victim to algorithms.”
“The vast majority of conspiracy theorists would disperse if the big companies shut down their search algorithms for a month,” he says.
3. Psychological prejudices, with a dark undertone, are alive and well
And we have our own human nature to thank for it.
“Our minds are naturally designed to seek the path of least resistance, a trait that has served the survival of our species well … Until our access to information multiplies by a thousand and exceeds our cognitive capacity to give a sense to it all. “
The more echo chambers crystallize and move away from the public eye, the more we see cognitive biases roar.
“Time and time again I would see – ‘I have this theory, can someone confirm it ..?’ “Can anyone find any research on XYZ to prove this idea I have?” Usually, such confirmations came from heavily edited video from various scientists, or from questionable research due to the small size of their sample groups and the history of their author.
Immediate connections are the biggest culprit for what we consider to be true, Mark said. “Which doesn’t mean it’s true. It only means that a group of people around you believe the same.
4. The amount of information is overwhelming
Today there is more content produced than there has ever been in human history. “By the time you’ve dismantled most of the sources as bad research, misinterpreted arguments, or mere lies, more stuff is thrown at you,” Mark said.
He noted that if one person tried to dispute or dispute facts, they would find themselves in a hurricane of sources that simply surpass anyone’s ability to refute.
“Has antibody-dependent improvement occurred for the RSV vaccine?” So surely the dozen COVID-19 vaccines will all do the same. “
“Are the vaccines going down? They are surely there to make us more vulnerable to COVID-19. Let the depopulation begin!
“Have the medical authorities gone back on some of their previous claims? Surely they are all lying to subdue us all.
5. The “conspiracy theorist” does not represent one type of person
Through private conversations, Mark discovered that there is a wide variety of personalities.
“For most people, the main vulnerability can be traced long before the pandemic. Many people approach this with unresolved traumas from their past, especially incidents involving scuffles with authorities. “
The pandemic would then cause them constant and continuous pain and anger, for which they needed an outlet.
“Others have experienced a brutal and profound disillusionment with their profession – think of medical professionals, nurses, therapists, pharmacists who are thrown into the deep end without any framework for them to understand the larger context.”
“Internationally, I noticed that companies that already had a low level of trust in their governments tended to be more vulnerable to this undercurrent. In Malta, we’ve been largely spared because the pandemic has never manifested itself in its ugliest forms, and while our politics aren’t exactly stellar, we’ve never been taken to extremes by other countries. “
6. People share the same psychological biases – and the same pain
Mark also noticed that there was real pain within each individual as people were taking real loss.
“A woman from the Maltese groups had lost half of her income since the start of the pandemic. Then her friend was kicked out due to Malta’s TCN visa policy, then she had limited contact with her family because they were afraid of the virus.
This woman never suffered from COVID-19 itself, but she did suffer from the pain inflicted by the restrictions.
Others lamented the loss of friendships where their support networks could no longer endorse conspiratorial thinking. “At the heart of it all, there is a source of suffering, which is never verbalized but always present. “
7. The amount of foreign influence is of concern
“Being in a group in Malta, I had a hard time understanding that I was really in Malta. There is an information pipeline, which allows for an almost uninterrupted flow from the United States. “
“We should all be concerned that one source is behind so much of the content spreading across the world. We have seen on several occasions how pushing false narratives destabilized and produced disastrous results with Brexit and the migrant crisis of 2015. ”
Misinterpreting the truth usually requires a truth to begin with, which makes misinformation so dangerous for dubious minds, Mark said.
8. There is an underlying extremist current
“I’m absolutely not going to say that everyone I saw there was radicalized,” Mark said. “However, the ‘other’ of those vaccinated, combined with the tremendous pain, fear and frustration that people experience on a daily basis, can put the most resilient among us under insurmountable pressure.”
Mark felt that the members felt relieved when they joined the groups, as they are ultimately surrounded by people who “get it”. “One person told me that they finally understood what it’s like to have power and knowledge that other people don’t have.
Whether it’s the pain of being isolated from their community or feeling thrown under the bus by their peers who have chosen to be vaccinated, they are not on the same page.
“Relationship breakdowns are a real thing and they cause pain everywhere, multiplying anger against the ‘real’ culprit – the government and the big pharmacy.”
Radicalization occurs when people experience rejection, creating a gulf between the “ugly, stupid or indifferent” outside world and the warm comfort of like-minded people.
And on top of that, tit is also a lack of tolerance for ambiguity. “There is a very limited space for ‘maybe’ in this world, which rings very close to other radicalized networks where only the inner circle holds the absolute truth.”
“Although in Malta I cannot say that serious security risks are increasing, the level of anger is reaching new heights as the months go by. Any peak in hospitalizations, any new measure will meet with increased resistance and serve to push even further the small group of people currently in difficulty. “
“The government should not have any mistaken beliefs. Any move to create restrictions based on immunization status will reinforce the already deep mental and emotional isolation. “
* The name of the source has been changed to protect the anonymity of the person
What do you think of the Malta conspiracy community?