Anti-vaccine groups 'causing risk to life' says Ahmed
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The founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate warned about the rise of anti-vaxx groups around the world, adding that the threat stems predominantly from conspiracy theories. Imran Ahmed discussed with the BBC the risks attached to the anti-vaxx campaigns online which could have fatal repercussions on people’s mental health. Mr Ahmed shed light on what conspiracism is, explaining that it can be broken down into “epistemic anxieties” and people’s insatiable hunger for information.
COVID-19 has claimed millions of lives across the globe since it broke out in 2019 but despite clear evidence that the virus really exists, with the death tolls climbing aggressively, phenomena like suspicions about what is really going on and conspiracy theories persist, with millions of people refusing to get jabbed as a result.
Mr Ahmed spoke about the risks of the rise in conspiracy theories to the BBC, saying: “It’s an old aphorism of countering cult behaviour, misinformation and conspiracy theories. It’s really difficult to counter misinformation with facts.
“And that’s not a satisfying thought, it’s quite difficult for most of us to accept but the reality is that they are honest identity groups.
“They achieve that level of salience to people’s identity to believe these conspiracies, to feel part of a community that has seen the light. They are in a new phase clearly.
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“They are not just believing extremist ideas they also say that they have to do something about it. And that’s a really dangerous phase, there’s now a risk to life, serious risk to life, including to public health professionals.”
He continued: “I think it’s an evolution of the anti-vaxx groups that have grown in size and scale around the world over the pandemic, driven in part by the extraordinary anxiety that we have all felt.
“Conspiracism is driven by what is called epistemic anxieties, [which is] a desperate desire to know for certain.
“And of course, with a novel passage and new disease causing a pandemic that is taking millions of lives people are slightly heightened in terms of their anxiety.
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“But the conspiracism that underpins anti-vaxx sentiment has taken hold and we are now seeing convergence with other forces.
“We are seeing it converging with white supremacism, with what used to be called the QAnon cult, which like any millenarian cult, who are looking for something else to do now that the end days haven’t come that Trump wasn’t re-elected.
“And they’ve been converging new conspiracy theories with anti-vaxxers.”
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It is believed that social media accounts such as Instagram and Facebook have played a pivotal role in spreading misinformation, recommending for instance anti-vaccine and QAnon accounts.
This has shaped the way many people think, with more and more believing that there is something hiding behind this global pandemic that the world population is unaware of.
Mr Ahmed, whose task it is to track and dismantle the Anti-Vaxx campaigns online concedes however that there is only so much he can do to stop the spread of misinformation from circulating on our social media accounts.
When asked if it’s easier to regulate social media or educate people on vaccines, he said that there is only so much he can do to stop the spread of fake news from circulating on the internet as people want real facts.
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