We are experiencing not only a virologic pandemic that requires biological immunization but also a pandemic of misinformation and denial that requires rational immunization. Brazil: A country that was quoted as a reference in vaccination succumbs to the virus that circulates in social networks, leading to doubt, fear, delay, and, above all, ideological blindness. Denialism is nothing more than the choice to discredit the reality of facts as a way to escape empirically confirmed truths; this denial occurs mainly when the information provided refutes an ideological position.
The virus spreads through technology and its potential for disseminating disinformation exists in the most diverse models, whether through fake news – effectively false and sensationalist news that aim to discredit the truth of the facts – or through decontextualization, that is, subversion of some true information to strengthen a specific narrative – such as feeding fear of vaccination in the public health sphere or disbelief in the electronic electoral process in the democratic sphere.
An example of the sequels left by the virus of denial lies on the fact that, in the middle of 2021, 1 in 3 Americans believed in the “Big Lie ”, that is, that the victory of the Democratic candidate Joe Biden only occurred through fraud. This percentage remained the same in the three surveys carried out by the Monmouth University Polling Institute, which explains the effective potential of information bubbles to feedback negative narratives beyond the electoral period, thus leading to even more ideologically blind individuals.
Two points were raised in attempt to identify how the “Big Lie” virus spreads. The first concerns conservative media such as Fox News, which does not endorse documents presented by institutional electoral oversight bodies that deny that there is a fraud, and thus, carries out television coverage of the vote recount, giving room to feed conspiracy theories. The second point deals with the distrust and hatred promoted by public figures such as Trump against the major media outlets as he encourages his followers to inform themselves through alternative media, distancing the viewer from unbiased truth.
It is noteworthy that a series of studies promoted by the Department of Communication at the University of Ohio indicate that conservative individuals receive greater amounts of fake news and have a lower capacity to identify them than progressives. The papers also reported that conservatives are more likely to believe them and slightly less likely to believe the truth. This only reinforces the informational bubbles and the bias of the facts, making it difficult, for example, to develop public policies regarding vaccination – in the United States, more than 99% of recent deaths are of people who were not vaccinated. The finding only reinforces what the most diverse experts claim: the only way to stop the pandemic is through isolation measures, social distancing, well-ventilated spaces, and, above all, vaccination. The cost of denial is now, more than ever, being paid in human lives, people who were targets of a virus developed in the labs of WhatsApp by its chaos engineers.
The amount of the influence of that the denialism driven by public and political figures in the United States has even slowed the advance of vaccination in predominantly republican regions. About 1,000 US counties have vaccination coverage below 30%, particularly in the Midwest and Southeast. Resistance among Republicans is constantly fueled by the Trumpist narrative, which sums up the idea of vaccines that people should be ashamed to get vaccinated and supporting the agendas of anti-vaccine movements. Denialism goes hand-to-hand with political agendas: 38 of the 39 districts with more than 60% of the population vaccinated elected Democrats to Congress; by contrast, of the 30 districts with about 30% of citizens vaccinated, 29 are Republican districts.
Brazil was not left out of the pandemic of denial. According to a survey promoted by the Reuter Institute, WhatsApp leads the ranking of misinformation about Covid-19 on digital platforms; the contamination speed promoted by technologies turns social media into perfect routers for the spread of this virus. It is required a tiring process of fact-checking on the part of large media vehicles that often need to fulfill the function of stating the obvious. One of the fake news spread to undermine the most recently disproved vaccination is that bodies vaccinated against Covid could be detected or connected via Bluetooth; it was necessary to bring in experts just to verify that biological bodies do not emit radio signals and that, therefore, there are no signs of risks to get yourself imunized.
In the Brazilian scenario, as pointed out in the research published in the communication and media magazine of the University of Liverpool, a third of respondents who stated that they avoid looking up news about the pandemic or getting information through traditional media, often identify themselves, in the political spectrum, with the Right. However, trust in official sources varies according to a political position. People closer to the right are more likely to trust the federal government, to believe more in fake news and less in external institutions; those aligned with the left, on the other hand, tend to distrust the federal government, favor the World Health Organization (WHO) and the media as the most reliable sources of information about Covid-19. According to the study, both Facebook and WhatsApp predominate as the biggest disinformation routers.
Fake News reaches two groups at the same time: those who feed on this (mis)information to solidify their ideological convictions and those who, unable to recognize the lie, succumb to the narrative. The truth is not absolute and is subject to criticism, however, there is an abyss between the criticism based on data and the purely ideological and sensationalist. The first seeks to improve our understanding of the whole from the argumentative evolution, while the other, just hijack the narrative and create a “parallel truth”.
This denial pandemic demands what Tim Maia, Brazilian musician and songwriter, would call “Rational Immunization”; in other words, preparing the rational immune system to immediately combat any invasion that tries to subvert the truth of the facts through misinformation. This immunization occurs through common sense, which is nothing more than critical sense. The reading of safe sources, together with the process of reflection and absorption of information, allows the individual to reach common sense and his rational system to immediately recognize fake news and sensationalism. The critical sense makes the individual a citizen capable of understanding the difference between fact and opinion, which separates a scientifically proven truth from an ideologically formulated opinion.
To effectively combat denial, it is necessary not only information checking entities, but a rationally immunized population. Such as for Covid-19, that demands social distancing, mass testing, ventilated areas, and vaccination are indicated, the virus of denial demands reliable sources, discerning fact of opinion, accountability of those who disseminate misinformation, effective action of social networks in moderating the content circulating in their feeds – after the banning of Trump’s Twitter account there was a 73% reduction in publications dealing with electoral fraud, for example – and, above all, common sense. The more rationally immunized people, the more effective the fight against the spread of denial becomes, mainly as a way to protect those who have no education – which are less guilted of spreading the virus – and end up being victims of such narratives.