Members of online movements dedicated to conspiracies about the Covid pandemic-19 are shifting their focus — and now spreading more and more false information about climate change.
British Matthew is convinced that occult forces are behind two of the biggest news stories of the present time and that he is not having access to the truth.
For him, “all this fear and propaganda campaign is an attempt to sell an agenda. It doesn’t matter if it’s climate change, a virus or something else.
Originally from the UK, Matthew has lived in New Zealand for 20 years —one of several countries that have tried to completely eradicate Covid-19 with stringent lockdowns.
Concerned about the New Zealand government’s approach, he turned to social media to look for news and people alike.The online groups he participates in —opposing vaccines and masks— have exposed him to conspiracies totally unfounded s about sinister global plots behind the pandemic.
His immersion in this conspiratorial world influenced his perspective and affected his relationships. He spoke to me on a video call, hiding in a corner of his garden. His fear was that his partner, who doesn’t share some of his opinions, might hear him.
And recently, groups like these have been sharing misleading statements, not just about the pandemic but also about climate change. They consider “Covid and climate advertising” to be part of the same supposed plot.
The ‘Rosa Branca’ network
Everything this is part of a larger pattern. Anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown Telegram groups that focused exclusively on the pandemic are now ushering in the climate change debate with the same conspiracy narratives used to explain the pandemic.
Posts go much further of debate and political criticism—they are full of misinformation, false stories and pseudoscience.
According to researchers at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD, a research and debate center that examines trends) of global disinformation), some antilockdown groups have received misleading posts claiming that climate change would be exaggerated or even a possible “rumor” designed to control people.
“Increasingly, the terminology surrounds of measures against Covid-19 is being used to fuel fear and mobilize against climate change,” says Jennie King of ISD.
She tells that the purpose is not to address the client changes. as a political issue. “The point is that these are perfect ways to bring to much larger audiences issues such as power, personal freedoms, taking action, citizens against the state, and loss of the traditional way of life.”
A group who have embraced these ideas is the “White Rose” group—a network of local subgroups around the world, from the UK to the US, Germany and New Zealand.
“It’s not run by just any one or two people,” explains Matthew. “It’s a kind of decentralized community organization, which can provide posters that you can put up on poles, things like that.” normal”, “real men don’t wear masks”, and false information like “there is no pandemic”.
Matthew joined his local White Rose group channel after seeing an ad on a poster — and now he himself puts up the same posters on poles near his home, near Auckland.
As we spoke, he mentioned the “Great Reset”—a theory of the baseless conspiracy that a global elite is using the pandemic to establish a grim New World Order, a “super-government” that would control the lives of citizens around the world.
Although he thinks some of the theories leaked online are far too conspiratorial, Matthew really believes that and There is a “confluence of hidden interests, governments and large corporations” behind it all.
His opinions are having real impacts on Matthew’s life, pulling him away from those closest to him
He says he recently felt uncomfortable because his nine-year-old daughter was giving a presentation on climate change at school. At the same time, he regrets having fallen into a conspiratorial pit.
“For the past three or four months, I’ve been waking up every day very anxious about the world and what’s going on,” he says. “And a lot of times I wish I didn’t feel that way.
‘She’s completely off the rails’
Christine looks into the matter on the other side of the coin. She is a nurse in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and treats patients with Covid-19.
During the pandemic, his girlfriend began to believe in extremist conspiracies about the pandemic and vaccines. She even began to think that Christine was part of a big conspiracy. Like Matthew, she joined the White Rose group’s channel in her area. The BBC got in touch with the Telegram, asking for comments.
“It’s crazy! It’s scary,” says Christine just before leaving for the night shift at the hospital.
His girlfriend was lured by false allegations about climate change—posting on the topic repeatedly on Instagram. that Christine needed to end the relationship.
“She now believes that climate change isn’t real — and that it’s all a scheme to depopulate the Earth and wipe out humanity.”
Christine shakes her head in despair.
The new frontier of the conspiracy
As the pandemic progresses, the vaccines take effect and many countries are beginning to approach normality, this shift from the pandemic to climate change is something that researchers have been observing in several online spaces.
A form of change that the ISD has been observing is the expression “climate lockdown”, used to designate the totally unfounded idea that, in the future, we may have pandemic-like lockdowns to fight the s climate change.
This expression has become popular among YouTubers who spread conspiracy theories, but climate scientists say that lockdowns would not be a serious strategy to reduce climate change. The pandemic lockdowns, for example, have reduced greenhouse gas emissions very little.
But the tension caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns –and the false information that emerged around them– served as a basis for even more conspiracies to spread. A group of people got caught up in a train of thought that blames all the bad news on the dark plots of powerful people and doesn’t accept the reality of the planet’s future.
With collaboration of Ant Adeane.