‘Mind control’ theory as Facebook misinformation worsens
Conspriacy theorists are using Facebook to urge Australians to refuse vital coronavirus tests that could save thousands of lives, sparking calls for social media giants and governments to clamp down on the sinister "infodemic" that has led to potentially deadly misinformation spreading like wildfire.
Threats of a second wave of the virus failed to convince 10,000 Victorians to undergo crucial testing and self-isolate last week.
Victoria's Health Minister, Jenny Mikakos, said it was disappointing that conspiracy theories about the virus were circulating through the community, with more than half a million lives lost from the disease globally.
As news broke of the Victorian test refusals, people took to social media to spread bizarre theories and urge others to decline the swabs.
"Stick it to this corrupt government fabricating Covid deaths to push there (sic) UN Agenda in Australia," one woman wrote, citing a long-debunked conspiracy theory that the UN is trying to install a global dictatorship.
"5G monitoring system," one man replied, ignoring all scientific advice to draw a link between the new mobile phone towers and the virus.
Others called it a "globalist" or "Satanist" attempt at "mind control", another dubbed the deadly virus a "scamdemic", while others accused the "New World Order'' of trying to take over the country.
La Trobe University Associate Professor Andrea Carson is part of a group of academics and journalists enlisted to meet with Facebook a few times a year to help advise and educate the social media company on topics like misinformation.
She said Facebook had expressed concern about the rapid and massive spread of misinformation around the virus and wanted to turn people toward trusted sources, like the World Health Organisation, and away from unreliable sources.
"It has become a wild west and it has real life consequences," she said.
"Political interference in elections, disinformation around communicable diseases like the coronavirus, these are big consequences."
Dr Carson said Facebook had previously been reluctant to take down comments and preferred to "dial down their algorithm" to make dubious posts less visible. But that was changing and comments were now being deleted.
"And, as they should, this misinformation is not inconsequential when dealing with life-and-death issues such as this coronavirus," she said.
"Those spreading this misinformation, or disinformation, are jeopardising themselves and others."
But a day after the conspiracy theorists began bombarding news stories about Victoria, the comments remained visible and supporters continued to believe them.
Dr Carson said it was "appalling" that comments about testing being part of a global conspiracy were allowed to slip past Facebook's automated and human moderators and remain up.
In a statement yesterday, a Facebook spokesperson said the company was aggressively going after misinformation about the pandemic and set up teams dedicated to the effort.
"In April, we applied warning labels to more than 50 million pieces of misinformation and removed hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm," the company said.
"We've also directed over two billion people to resources from the World Health Organisation through pop-ups and our dedicated COVID-19 Information Centre."
Facebook says it uses several automated detection mechanisms to block material.
Originally published as COVID 'mind control' theory as Facebook misinformation worsens