Conspiracism in the age of Covid-19

5:25-min read

Hello from 20 Minutes into the Future. In this edition we’ll be looking at the many Covid-19 conspiracies spreading across social media and other stories from the battle lines in the war with big tech. Strap your mask on.

Kathleen Carley and her team at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science’s Institute for Software Research having been tirelessly cataloging conspiracy after conspiracy spreading across social media. What’s more they’ve discovered that bots generate nearly 50% of all tweets about the virus. That’s a marked increase from the usual 20% other global events typically generate.

Here’s a sample of just one of the categories of misinformation and propaganda that they’re tracking (and please do check out the rest — especially #69 under preventions and cures):

Stories relating inaccurate information regarding weaponization or other conspiracies

  1. It was created in a lab

  2. It is a US/CIA created bioweapon

  3. It is a Chinese bioweapon

  4. It is a Russian bioweapon

  5. It leaked from a bio-weapons lab in China

  6. It leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China

  7. It was caused by an infected rat biting a student in the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China

  8. March 12, Ayatollah Khamenei falsely claimed that there is evidence that COVID-19 might be a “biological attack.”

  9. Electromagnetic fields and the introduction of 5G wireless technologies led to COVID-19 outbreaks

  10. Washing hands is propaganda by soap companies

  11. This was a plan from Gate Foundation to increase the Gate’s wealth

  12. Qatar knew about COVID-19 since 2015 and Doha paid billions to China to “grow the virus”

  13. Corona virus is being spread by Coca-Cola

  14. US military brought the virus to Wuhan on October 2019

  15. Bill Gates and Vatican have a plan to depopulate world with coronavirus vaccine

  16. Saddam Hussein in 90s told his cabinet that US threatened to spread coronavirus if he didn’t follow US commands

  17. Cuba gave a vaccine to China

  18. Cuba has a vaccine called Interferon

  19. Israel found the cure

  20. China finds a vaccine 3/17

  21. Institut Pasteur in France invented COVID-19

  22. COVID-19 is no worse than other outbreaks, it is just being hyped to hurt Trump

  23. COVID-19 is a scripted narrative to justify closed borders

  24. COVID-19 is a scripted narrative to force people to stay at home

  25. Egypt developed cure (doctor developed a fluid)

  26. Egypt gave China the vaccine

  27. US has 40 thousands troops immune to COVID-19 conducting an invasion of Europe

  28. CDC admits coronavirus originated in the US

  29. Cow urine and feces can cure

  30. COVID-19 was created in 2014 by an English Institute

  31. Ecuadorean doctor develops vaccine 3/3

  32. Filipino student develops vaccine and gets 5million US from Alibaba founder Jack Ma

  33. Raúl Rodolfo Abhduz Khan, biochemical engineer from Karmalah Laboratories, is the creator of coronavirus.

  34. RS 2000 notes scattered in Delhi to spread coronavirus

  35. US soldiers who drank snake blood in Thailand carried coronavirus to Wuhan for Military World Games

  36. Coronavirus is a hoax used to coverup the secret installation of a 5G network in Zagreb Croatia

  37. American researcher Charles Lieber arrested for selling SARS-Cov-2 to Chinese

  38. 5G exposure compromises hemoglobin in cells and worsens COVID-19 pandemic

Regular readers will know propaganda is something I keep an active interest in. Many of these narratives neatly align with state disinformation campaigns from Russia, China, and yes The USA too. As is always the case the point is to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Twitter has once again updated it’s policies on the subject:

Unverified claims that incite people to action, could lead to the destruction or damage of critical infrastructure, or could lead to widespread panic, social unrest, or large-scale disorder.

In their “crackdown” to date they have removed a paltry 2,230 tweets. There remains no easy way to report a tweet as pandemic propaganda. And of course, Trump continues to run amok on the platform despite encouraging people to inject bleach to fight the virus.

Twitter’s never been at a loss for creating good policies. Where Jack and his team consistently fall down is enforcing them fairly. And that’s because he knows there’s good money to be made in outrage.


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Ten stories this week

  1. This is stochastic terrorism pure and simple. And @jack does nothing about it.
    In Trump's 'LIBERATE' tweets, extremists see a call to arms (NBC News)

  2. Let them crater.
    Uber and Lyft Are Searching for Lifelines (The New York Times)

  3. “Meanwhile, every day we get a politburo-style government briefing in which our leader routinely tells us that we are enjoying abundance in categories of items that are, in fact, in desperate need of replenishment.”
    Life in Pandemic and Echoes of Soviet Russia (Wired)

  4. There’s a reason these shelter-in-place protests look like Trump campaign rallies.
    Make America Protest Again (Popular Info)

  5. Your daily reminder that Ajit Pai is a real piece of shit.
    FCC blasted for “shameful” ruling against cities and fire department (Ars Technica)

  6. And there it is. No surprise given Thiel's part of Trump's reflection campaign. And that he helps Trump run ads on Facebook.
    Peter Thiel’s controversial Palantir built coronavirus tracking tool for Trump admin (The Verge)

  7. Cool. Wake me up when they do the same for all the Nazi shit.
    YouTube bans 'medically unsubstantiated' content (BBC)

  8. Still not getting PPE to them though.
    Instacart is hiring even more shoppers and adding ‘wellness checks’ to its shopper app (theverge.com)

  9. "Facebook wired a machine into electoral decision making. Political campaigns have ceased to communicate with voters and have begun to communicate with AI instead. Facebook’s artificial intelligence for delivering advertising is already a crucial component of a winning 2020 campaign—perhaps the crucial component. And it works in a tangled, outlandish way that no human, not even at Facebook, can ever fully understand."
    How Facebook Works for Trump (The Atlantic)

  10. Step 1. Change mom's internet settings so she can't go to Facebook and Fox News.
    What to Do When Mom Believes Coronavirus Conspiracies (nytimes.com)

From the archives

Dig deeper into propaganda more with these stories from 20 Minutes into the Future:


Sick and tired of big tech behaving badly? 20 Minutes into the Future is about holding the bastards to account. One way we can do that is by spreading the word of their misdeeds.

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Bastard watch

Jeff Bezos steps into the spotlight in our inaugural edition of bastard watch. Why you ask? For personally having a hand in every decision that has put his warehouse workers in harm’s way during the pandemic, to okaying heat maps that track the “risk” of Whole Foods workers unionising, and undermining local businesses and sellers.

Kindred spirits

I’ve previously mentioned Monika Bielskyte in the newsletter. Monika’s a futurist that works to create culturally diverse visions of tomorrow guided by regenerative thinking and community empowerment. Find out more about her “protopian design” practice in this keynote she delivered for Google. 


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Good night and good future,
Daniel


20 Minutes into the Future is a critical look at how technology is shaping our lives today. And what actions we can take for a better tomorrow. If you're not already a subscriber and found this newsletter worth your while then please sign up.


My name is Daniel Harvey and I write 20 Minutes into the Future. I’m a product designer and have written for Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Drum, & more. If you're pissed about the current state of tech and want to see us do better then you’ve found a kindred spirit.

You can email me at daniel.harvey@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @dancharvey.