Mark*, a mental health professional in Malta, decided to explore the ‘parallel pandemic’ and dived into the rabbit hole of COVID-19 conspiracies in the name of science.
For three months, he inserted himself in more than 12 conspiracy groups in Malta and eventually as far as the UK, US, France, Romania, Belgium and Australia, reaching more than 100,000 members.
Malta’s conspiracy community consisted of around 950 people – about half of Ta’ Xbiex’ population. “A small but growing body of Maltese people are following this line of thinking,” Mark said.
Scepticism is natural, he said, insisting that “having an inquisitive nature and being watchful over the state of our world is a duty we all hold as its citizens”.
But the theories go beyond opposing mandatory vaccines and obligatory masks – the conspiracies range from climate change being a government hoax to the vaccinations being the “mark of the beast”.
What seems to be the main belief is that the vaccination is being used for depopulation purposes. “If you have fewer people, they’re easier to control”, is the consensus.
There is the theory of the “Great Reset”, which assumes that someone (Bill Gates?) wants to “reboot” society by killing off a large part of the population.
“For every person saved, the vaccination kills 15 others,” a conspiracy theorist said in a screenshot sent to Lovin Malta. “It’s a societal reset – they will come for us.”
There are other theories doing the rounds that are on a more “scientific” level.
The idea of the antibody dependence enhancement, for instance, is that the vaccine will weaken the overall immune response to spike protein, which will make us more dependent on the booster vaccines.
“That means we’ll be more vulnerable to COVID-19 in the long run, conspiracists argue, with the end goal of depopulation.”
In Malta, people specifically lack awareness of who is responsible. “Whether it’s Maltese or European institutions, this seems to be going over people’s heads. They are unaware of how the institutions work.”
This, Mark said, is being fed by the narrative that corruption runs rampant in Malta, so many believe that authorities cannot always be trusted.
“People experienced a regular sense of anger when new measures would crop up, and the word ‘booster shots’ was a booster for them to become angrier.”
It seemed like Malta’s positive situation completely escaped them. And as Malta has never seen extreme emergencies like Italy and the US, there is little deradicalisation.
“They feel like they’re being manipulated by the state and the government,” Mark said. “They see the relaxed measures right now, which are thanks to the highly vaccinated population, as coercion from the government.”
And, more concerningly, there is a number of health professionals at the frontlines of the conspiracies. “The professionals have the ability to push these narratives out of the groups and into their own practices.”
Mark spent his time engaging and connecting with people, having private discussions with some of the group members.
He observed the growing mistrust, which sometimes led to Maltese people losing touch with their friends, and family members losing trust in each other.
“It happens on both an individual and a social level. Conspiracy theories cause a breakdown of relationships, with friends mistrusting each other and falling out.”
While some theories would later turn out to be true, others were worth questioning. And in the age of mis- and disinformation, “the easiest warfare one can have is the battle over people’s eyes and attention, and implicitly their minds.”
“We are in an economy of attention, and the easiest way you can destabilise a society is by injecting enough fear and paranoia in groups which already have a reason to distrust the ‘system’.”
Besides these general observations, Mark learnt eight things during his time infiltrating the COVID-19 conspiracy network – stay tuned for his main takeaways.
*The source’s name has been changed to protect the individual’s anonymity
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