Otherwise known as COVID-19 Misinformation Spreaders!
(Excuse the sarcasm)
Now, you may be wondering why I would even consider giving these people more of a platform. That is a very fair point and one that is in the back of my mind as I write.
However, these small protests have stemmed from a larger wave of fake news circulating the internet.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, reining in the spread of misinformation on digital media has been the priority for many governments and platforms. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and several other social media sites have worked to contain fake news and punish users who present misinformation to their followers.
Celebrities such as Pete Evans recently had his Instagram account deleted after repeatedly sharing debunked claims about COVID-19 and vaccines. A once staple of Australian television has now announced that he will be running for a seat in the Australian Government for a fringe party called the Great Australian Party.
Celebrities and public figures sharing these horrific theories with their followers is bad enough. But, when politicians also start to support conspiracy theories, the problem only becomes worse.
Introducing one of the worst politicians I’ve ever seen – Craig Kelly. He gives these debunked theories a platform, has no reputable sources to support his claims and crumbles at any confrontation. If you’d like some entertainment, you can watch him utterly disintegrate as he is confronted by one of Australia’s greatest politicians, Tanya Plibersek.
In Australia, are these small fringe groups a real threat to overcoming the pandemic? In reality, it seems unlikely. There is little traction, and with the rollout of vaccines beginning today, every Australian will hopefully be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
But, we still must find solutions to online misinformation that carefully balances the right to free speech and government overreach. This is a global problem, and it requires a variety of approaches to cover all bases. This could include bolstering non-regulatory measures such as verification through third-party fact-checking, using AI to remove harmful content and supporting quality journalism and academic research.
We require a clear direction, and we need a collaborative approach by all parties involved. That will allow us to overcome the spread of fake news, prevent conspiracy theorists from having a platform, and still allow people to think critically.
Finally, I’m sorry for giving individuals such as Mr Evans and Mr Kelly more of a platform than they deserve. I felt it was necessary to provide some context and examples, but it will be the last time they are mentioned on this blog.
There is nothing to protest about in Australia. The vaccine rollout is beginning, the pandemic is starting to slow down, and a little bit of patience will take us through to a new world – without masks.