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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Antivaxxers Amenable to Russian Propaganda

Kiera Butler at Mother Jones:
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen how conspiracy theories can overlap and collide. I’ve documented how anti-vaccine groups embraced QAnon disinformation about liberal elites conspiring to unseat Trump, and how white nationalists find willing audiences for their racist ideology in anti-mask groups. Over the last week, a new disinformation hybrid has appeared, as online anti-vaccine groups have become a hotbed of pro-Russia conspiracy theories about the conflict in Ukraine—and some of the most prominent anti-vaccine activists are actively promoting geopolitical falsehoods.

Imran Ahmed, executive director of the online extremism tracking group Center for Countering Digital Hate, has been following the convergence of the conspiracy theories, and he’s noticed they share familiar themes: alleged secret government alliances, anti-Semitic accusations, and allusions to nefarious scientists. “There are particular individuals within the anti-vaccine world who are amenable to pro-Russian propaganda,” he says, “and that would include some of the people who’ve cohered around QAnon and Trump.”

One example of this is how an old Trump-era storyline—the theory that SARS-CoV-2 was deliberately engineered in a lab and released—seems to have been reconstituted in a new form: Anti-vaccine influencers claim that the United States owns a network of secret biolabs in Ukraine where dangerous infectious disease research takes place. For them, it’s just obvious that Biden is sending aid to Ukraine in order to protect those assets. This rumor has been proven to be manifestly false—but that hasn’t stopped it from circulating and gaining momentum.