In spring, as the poet said, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of conspiracy. Wait! I just misquoted Alfred Tennyson and there’s a one in eight chance that someone under 34 will believe the quote is authentic.
While the new season takes tentative steps towards summer (tulips and daffodils flowering), imported conspiracy theories have taken root in Australia. The media noticed; with The Australian, the New Daily, The Guardian and 60 Minutes among those to investigate. Satirists weighed in, mocking the worrisome ideas fomented by the mendacious QAnon. While satire has its place, conspiracy theories can cause a lot of damage if people act on them.
During the lockdown of public housing towers in Melbourne, some 10,000 people refused to take a covid test. Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said some had declined believing that Coronavirus was a conspiracy, its effects overstated, or simply with a misguided faith that it would not affect them.
More recently, News Corp reported that people are being “actively investigated” by police for encouraging Melbourne residents to protest against Stage Four lockdown. Anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police in the Victorian capital on Sunday night. The anti-lockdown lobby has been very active on Twitter and other social media outlets before and after those events.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews’ attempts to hose down the second phase of COVID-19 are being defied by those including followers of the social media conspiracy spreader, QAnon. If you hear someone utter the words ‘sovereign citizen’, its a sure sign they follow one of the far-right conspiracy groups in the US (and now, it seems, in Australia).
QAnon believes the world is being controlled by a ‘deep state’ of Satan-worshipping paedophiles and people traffickers. The plot (there always is one) is that the deep state wants to overthrow the incumbent president, Donald Trump. Even though QAnon has previously turned on Trump, at this stage in the election cycle it appears they think he’s the right man to fix what ails the US.
There’s more available, if you want to go looking for it, on Facebook and bulletin boards like 4Chan and 8kun (known as 8Chan before the Christchurch mosque massacre). The latter was in the news again this week as the perpetrator was jailed for life without parole.
The shooter posted simultaneous footage of the massacre on social media forums and investigations since showed him to be active on right-wing bulletin boards like 8Chan.
The London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which tracks extremism around the world, detailed the rise of QAnon across social media platforms. Its report, The Genesis of a Conspiracy Theory, shows that interactions with content in social media groups more than tripled, from 2.35 million in February to 7.26 million in June.
The ISD report shows a marked increase in discussions on social media platforms between March and June. Unique users discussing QAnon jumped by 12.02 million, or 63.7% on Twitter, 188,855 or 174.9% on Facebook and 96,894 or 71% on Instagram. One should hope that some of those discussions were rebuttals posted by people who know that it is just so much hokum.
Little wonder that the FBI and ASIO warned that extreme-right radical groups are a domestic terrorism threat.
The definition of a conspiracy theory is that which is promulgated as fact yet cannot be supported by evidence. Or as Daniel Pipes (a US historian and writer) was quoted in a Senate report:
“Like alchemy and astrology, conspiracism offers an
intellectual inquiry that has many facts right but goes wrong
by locating causal relationships where none exist.”
Australia has always had an element of conspiracists; holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, mask-deniers, Islamaphobes and those who subscribe to (US) theories that the world is controlled by a cabal of (Jewish) financiers (and that aliens are being kept in a secret underground facility in the desert somewhere, for breeding purpose, perhaps). The adherents may be small in number but they wield a disproportionate amount of influence.
People aged 18-34 appear to be susceptible to being swayed by conspiracy theories. About 20% of this cohort told pollsters they believed the 5G mobile network was being used to spread coronavirus (a widely debunked and baseless theory).
The better news is that 5G theory beliefs decreased in older age groupings. About 13% of 35 to 54-year olds responded positively to the theories, and between 4% and 8% of the 55+ cohort.
The rapid growth of QAnon appears to have started with the emergence of the Coronavirus in March. Those who believe that vaccinations cause more health problems than the specific ones they are forestalling, were the obvious target.
ASIO’s annual threat assessment released in February outlined the threat of right-wing extremism as “real and growing”, according to a Lowy Institute report. A June update revealed that right-wing extremist investigations now make up a third of ASIO’s domestic caseload. ASIO warns that far-right groups are using Covid-19 as a cover to push ideologies and gain recruits.
In Australia, this manifested itself in a series of rallies in May, with protesters calling Covid-19 a scam and protesting against vaccines, pharmaceutical companies, fluoride and 5G.
As if this was no disturbing enough, a meme being circulated (again), purports to claim that Australia does not exist. I thought it was satire, and so did the person who brought it to my attention. No, it is a conspiracy theory/hoax that’s been around long enough to have its own hashtag, #australiadoesntexist.
So, enough of this nonsense; let’s just enjoy the daffodils and tulips, the pardalote chit-chitting away, the smell of jasmine…
If you see Junior thumbing away at his phone or tablet when it’s supposed to be family time, share the real quote from Tennyson: “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
Or if you prefer a poem with an Australian flavour:
And jolly Spring, with love and laughter gay
Full fountaining, lets loose her tide of bees
Upon the waking ember-flame of bloom
New kindled in the honey-scented trees.