COVID conspiracies return in force, just in time for 2024

The rise in coronavirus cases has led to a corresponding escalation in conspiracy theories surrounding the virus, a phenomenon that experts warn will worsen as the 2024 elections approach. .

The White House and President Biden’s reelection efforts will now focus on countering misinformation spread by vaccination opponents, some conservative experts, and even a small number of Republican officials, as well as promoting vaccine awareness and updating vaccines. will be tasked with promoting the spread of

Advocates told The Hill that although the coronavirus public emergency is over, the pandemic’s impact on American society will continue.

“We’re only at the tip of the iceberg as to how bad things will get,” said conspiracy theorist Mike Rothschild.

Concerns that another COVID-19 lockdown is imminent have been circulating online as the number of infections has soared in recent weeks. The number of people hospitalized with the virus has been steadily increasing each week since early July. According to the data From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The claims originated in conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ “exclusive” article on InfoWars on Aug. 18, in which a whistleblower at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Border Protection said strict measures taken early in the pandemic. It claims to have told them that precautionary measures are returning. The website later speculated, without evidence, that these purported lockdowns were perfectly timed to support the “largest election interference in history.”

Right-wing online spaces quickly picked up on this story, which was subsequently amplified. conservative publications Including some Republicans. Utah State Senator Mike Lee and Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie.

“If bureaucrats seek to reinstate coronavirus repressive measures, resist with a vengeance. Do not disobey,” Massey said in a statement. Posted on August 25thformerly Twitter.

TSA spokesperson R. Carter Langston told The Hill that the “rumors” are “absolutely false,” and that the agency has no new requirements regarding COVID-19 and has not held any meetings on the topic. He added that it was not open. “Claims that CBP plans to reintroduce COVID-19 protocols on its own are false,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Jackie Wasilk.

Rothschild said the claim is baseless, but not new.

“Misinformation about COVID-19 is probably pretty persistent,” he says. “New variants of the coronavirus seem to wax and wane…but conspiracy theories about what they think is happening with the coronavirus are very persistent. and they are always reaching their climax.”

Deep-rooted conspiracy theories always have a “core of reality,” he added.

Around the time the InfoWars article was published, for a brief period in August, entertainment company Lionsgate reinstated mask mandate As the number of infected people increases in Los Angeles.Also last month, at a university in Georgia. reinstated mask mandate and a middle school in alabama did the same thing.

“These are the most durable types of conspiracy theories, and you can’t say they’re all lies,” Rothschild said.

Tara Kirk Sell, a scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the misinformation that gains traction online is usually rooted in deeper issues, such as concerns about vaccine reliability or government overreach. Stated.

“These viral rumors are really resonating within those concerns, those values, those beliefs,” Sell said. “When it comes to dealing with misinformation, it’s not just one piece of misinformation that we have to fight. Whatever causes these viral rumors to resonate with people, it’s a deep-seated concern about the government and everything else. It is.”

The Biden administration is taking steps to address communication challenges around the coronavirus that have been accelerated by some presidential candidates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat known for his anti-vaccine views, criticized the administration for its policies to combat the pandemic.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the government responds to comments on social media to correct inaccurate information, monitors social media for rumors and conspiracy theories, and informs public health officials of inaccurate information. They say they are taking measures such as encouraging people to fight against information. .

In particular, the Food and Drug Administration monitors unapproved health fraud products being advertised online.

“HHS is committed to ensuring public health guidance and messaging is based on facts and science, and we know how important it is for people to have accurate, science-based information to protect themselves. “We are committed to being transparent about what we do and don’t know about ourselves and our loved ones,” the spokesperson said.

and, Associated Press interview In a post published Friday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said “schools should open” even if coronavirus infections spike again, adding that in-person education “should not be sacrificed for the sake of ideology.” No,” he added. He acknowledged concerns about “government overreach” that could affect students’ ability to learn.

This aggressive effort comes after former chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and other public health officials were attacked for their work during the Trump administration when the novel coronavirus first surfaced in the United States. It was received and carried out. Mr. DeSantis and other Republicans have repeatedly denigrated Mr. Fauci over policies such as mask mandates and government shutdowns.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration considers the vaccine rollout to be a major success during its administration. A massive effort to fire the weapon as quickly as possible was led by Jeff Zients, now Chief of Staff.

Biden will likely be on the defensive throughout the 2024 campaign as the coronavirus creeps back into Americans’ lives. Mr. DeSantis, RFK Jr. and others will continue to argue that Mr. Biden and his team’s response is an obstacle for the United States and that Americans should question whether they need booster shots.

In Florida, the DeSantis administration earlier this month recommended that people under 65 not get the coronavirus booster shot, going against the CDC’s recommendation to vaccinate everyone over 6 months old. The state’s public health director said boosters are “not a good decision” for young people and people who aren’t at risk.

“I will not stand by and allow the FDA and CDC to use healthy Floridians as guinea pigs for a new booster shot that is neither proven safe nor effective,” DeSantis said. “Once again, Florida is the first state in the nation to stand up and lead based on truth, not the edicts of Washington.”

To combat misinformation during the campaign, the Biden campaign pivoted away from alternative platforms such as New Age X (formerly Twitter) rolled out in 2020 and Trump’s Truth Social. As social media changes, campaigns are less likely to ask and expect social media companies to remove content they deem misinformation.

The Biden campaign has set up a task force made up of spokespeople and legal aides to thwart disinformation primarily surrounding his removal from the White House due to the coronavirus.

Rather than rely on the help of social media companies, the plan is to use Biden campaign officials, allies, proxies and influencers to publicly call out disinformation.

Experts agree that businesses and individuals need to take control of the amount of content flowing online.

“It’s really up to us, the individual users, to police what they put out, to scrutinize what they see, to stop the wave of some of this stuff before it spreads.” ,” Rothschild said.

“But you’re asking a lot of people to do a lot of work, and people are already busy, stressed, and overextended,” he continued. “A lot of people aren’t going to do that, and that’s going to be a big problem.”

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