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How I made my peace with conspiracy theorists

The problem with the slogan “We’re just going to have live with the virus” is that the choices being made mean it is very likely a lot of people are going to learn to die from it.

Though current death rates remain low, we are not counting the number of people with long covid who are still suffering following infection. I suspect reporting those statistics would have a great impact on how people feel about the virus.

It is easy to understand how you can convince yourself Covid is all a strange far off problem if it has not touched your life. I got covid early and have been struggling ever since. I have written a lot about the symptoms here. I have lost seven friends this year. The repercussions of loving a lot of people. But I know few who have been affected as broadly as myself by the virus. I have very few friends who have lost anyone, and in fact for most of my mates, I am their covid reference point.

I have witnessed the Trumpolitics playing out from people who have had no real life impact from the virus other than lockdown, but who absolutely believe the articles their mate Trevor keeps posting on Facebook. Covid arrived after the landslide of division Brexit taught us. Either you hold exactly the same view as me, or you are an idiot. There is no discourse or room for debate, just heel digging, finger pointing and snide laugher. Facts do not matter anymore, because you’re only saying that because you are brainwashed sheeple. It is the ultimate arms-folded full stop. A political ner-ner-n-ner-ner I can’t hear you.

I have managed to make a little peace through my initial fury at the people who think the whole virus is made up, by reminding myself they are seeing things I will never see, on their social media and in their targeted advertising. We all know that Facebook has been farming our details for years and we’d be naive to think they are not also mining who is susceptible to click on a conspiracy theory link. The algorithm has spent year watching who loves pseudoscience and flexistats. The irony is they have been tracking the people who are terrified they are being watched the whole time - and they sign-up to it. It is a rapid slalom click funnel from “what is the first album you ever bought?” to “what does your favourite colour of the rainbow say about you?” to “big pharma are trying to make plants illegal - watch the TRUTH they are trying to hide” to “the vaccine was invented by illuminati”. I have started to suspect that everyone’s beliefs can be connected by seven degrees of clickbait. So I have stopped trying to be rational and discuss conspirifact versus reality and now just cut to the core of it: “who did you hear that from and who is making money from that article / video / your fear?” Because someone is always profiting from this rage and division.

This is the piece of the jigsaw that I believe most of the “they are all trying to control us” brigade miss and it is so basic. Yes, they are trying to control us, as you correctly thump stamped on Facebook, on your iPhone, which you do not log out of because it is a bit of a hassle. You use contactless cards, you accept cookies on websites, VPNs seem like a bit of a bother and you don’t like to talk about it much, but you’ve probably got Amazon prime. Yes mate, they are trying to control you and you were first in the queue to subscribe. You agreed every step of the carefully crafted path, most of us did, for ease and convenience, and because the alternatives are a deliberate pain. And you know why they are trying to control us? To make money. And you know what does not make money? Shut down economies and lockdowns. It is so wild to me that people haven’t thought their own theories through to the end goal. People do not want control for control’s sake, the bottom line is always money - which is why we are unlocking now, as cases are rising and new variants are taking hold and young people have yet to be offered their vaccines. Not because of control, but because the cogs capitalism need to keep turning and if lives are lost along the way, well, wouldn’t be the first time.

So for now I am going o carry on wearing a mask, watching the stats, listening to scientists and medical experts and not pretend I know what is going to happen, when literally no one does. But I fear these infowars, the absence of facts and rumour reporting is likely to linger long after the virus is under control, and we are going work hard to heal the damage that fear and misinformation has infected us all with. So we may as well start now, by trying to engage in conversations with people, not to convince them we are right, but maybe, just maybe, with the aim of believing that if you read all the articles they had been exposed to, you might be that frightened as well. And I get it, it is so much more appealing to believe that there is some grand masterplan to being executed to keep us all in our place, because at least if you believe that, then there’s something to rally against. Because when you do not believe that, you have to submit to the fear that literally no one knows anything and we do not know what is happening or how this will all unfold and that is petrifying. And it is petrifying - this whole 18 months has been a horror show for so many, and it is worth remembering that next time someone starts spouting nonsense which sounds like it has been concocted by someone bunking off geography. Everyone is really just quite frightened, and that could be the reason they are behaving like that.

There was a brilliant tweet during lockdown last year (I am sorry, I cannot find the original post - so many people have copied it) which stated that “Everyone needs more than anyone can give right now”. I think if we are going to begin to build a future to support each other through the rugged journey ahead of us, this is something we are going to keep needing to remind each ourselves regularly. That and the reality that just because you saw it on the internet, it does not always mean it is the truth.


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