In these days of instant communication, it is easier than ever to spread both information and misinformation, and it’s a constant mystery to me how seemingly intelligent and wise people get sucked in by propaganda spread from dubious sources.
It’s easy to click the ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ button on things like Facebook and Twitter and it is those items that stir an intense emotion that get the most attention, such as a scare story linked to what is already in the news.
At one point in April 2020, when much was still unknown about Covid-19, I was forwarded a voice recording by a worried friend on the Whatsapp messaging app. The woman in the recording, in a desperate and urgent tone, claimed she worked within the ambulance service and that Public Health England had secretly told staff that the country was about to hit its coronavirus peak. We would be facing 900 deaths a day, one third of which would be teenagers, children and babies with no underlying health issues. She also stressed that when this happened, the NHS would be unable to cope, so would not dispatch any ambulances, even to urgent cases.
She conjured up a scene so horrific that it could could come straight out of a disaster movie, warning that mortuaries were already full and ice rinks were being prepared to accept the bodies of the dead. The message was clearly designed to stir up fear and panic in an already fearful and panicked nation. It was quickly proved to be a hoax, but not before it had been shared by hundreds of thousands of worried people on Whatsapp. The woman who recorded it turned out not to work in healthcare at all, but simply liked the idea of scaring a few million people into panic buying loo roll at the supermarket. What a very strange way to get your kicks.
We all have a responsibility to check if something is genuine and accurate before we go as far as spreading it among people we know, because they will then of course go and share it themselves. But too many of us don’t seem able or willing to do so, despite the fact that the internet makes it easier than ever to do your own research to determine if something is fact or fiction. Don’t get me wrong. There are those who are very clever at twisting things to so that they seem very plausible to an audience willing to believe it (Donald Trump’s unforgettable ‘Alternative Facts’ spring to mind). But most people with a modicum of common sense should be able to work out the truth if they put the effort into doing so.
Conspiracy theories seem to be particularly rife at the moment, whether they be about how Covid came about, about what vaccinations do or about why Trump lost the US presidential election. Apparently, at times of uncertainty, when the reality is really hard to get your head around, we are more likely to believe a conspiracy theory. We want the certainty of a black and white explanation, rather than accepting the unsettling truth about a dreadful situation where certainty cannot be given and no end is in sight.
One of the most famous conspiracy theories involves the moon landings, where on 20th July 1969, Neil Armstrong took the first steps by a human on the lunar surface. Around 650 million people around the world watched live as he made the most famous walk of all time, and yet there are still those who believe it was all faked.
In his column from 23rd January 1982, Dad talks about meeting an old Yorkshire fella who steadfastly refused to believe it had happened (despite there being five further moon landings since that first one).
“Thoo can’t tell me that onnybody’s gotten up yonder. Ah’ll nivver swallow that yarn, nut as lang as Ah live…Ah reckon it was all filmed in yan o’ them television studios, all a mak-believe. It was summat put in t’papers for t’bairns ti larn at scheeal…Ah’s nut daft, thoo knaws – neea fella from this earth has landed on t’moon.”
The chap didn’t give an explanation as to why such a thing would be fabricated, but was steadfast in his refusal to believe it. I wonder what he’d think about the virus? I’m sure he’d have a theory or two.
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 21st and the Gazette & Herald on 19th January 2022