Concepts similar enough to pass as first cousins on the misinformation family tree have proliferated in social media spaces that do not usually cross or blend.In conservative white spaces, there are unsubstantiated claims that the coronavirus is Gates’ route to disease profit, a crafty government surveillance system or a man-made population-control mechanism with unfair economic consequences. Once the misinformation circulated among left-leaning black social media, it often described the coronavirus and the resulting disproportionate death toll as racial population shaping. “What you have are the same, often very dangerous, ideas repackaged in a way that makes sense to very different groups of people,” said Shireen Mitchell, a researcher who studies online disinformation and harassment. “And it’s distrust in government, in the establishment, in institutions that are the connective tissue — they’re a prevailing theme that makes these wild ideas seem true to those who believe.” Now, something strange is happening with coronavirus misinformation, and she is deeply concerned that it could have real consequences, such as online voter suppression, the focus of her current work. The problem is so serious that the World Health Organization has called it an “infodemic,” and it secured unprecedented cooperation from many American social media companies to tag, remove and otherwise try to limit the spread of misinformation.
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