Groups spreading misinformation about Covid-19 lockdowns and vaccines are starting to use the same language to spread conspiracy theories about climate change, experts have warned. Covid-19 conspiracy theorists are starting to use terms such as “green lockdowns”. The term refers to the belief that, in future, people will be regularly forced to stay at home and restrict their travel and social contacts to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. Kaya Burgess discusses these developments in an article on The Times website. Are you aware of this happening in your country?
Covid conspiracy theorists turn on climate change
Groups spreading misinformation about Covid-19 lockdowns and vaccines are starting to use the same language to spread conspiracy theories about climate change, experts have warned.
As the impact of the pandemic and need for restrictions begins to wane, Covid-19 conspiracy theorists are starting to use terms such as “green lockdowns”, according to analysts at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
The term refers to the belief that, in future, people will be regularly forced to stay at home and restrict their travel and social contacts to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. There is no evidence for such claims.
A series of protests have been held across the UK and globally in which demonstrators have railed against measures introduced to reduce the spread of Covid-19. The protesters claim that the mandatory wearing of facemasks in shops or on trains, the imposition of lockdowns and the prospect of Covid-19 “passports” to show that you have had a negative test or been vaccinated constitute breaches of their civil liberties.
There have also been baseless claims that vaccines contain secret microchips to track patients and that the pandemic was planned to boost the profits of pharmaceutical companies and their investors.
Such protests have led to Professor Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, being confronted and accused of lying in the street and anti-vaccine protesters storming hospitals to accuse doctors of “crimes against humanity”. Piers Corbyn was arrested last month on suspicion of encouraging attacks against MPs’ offices.
Health officials have said that lockdowns have been necessary to slow the spread of a virus that has claimed more than 5.4 million lives worldwide, while a global vaccination programme is the only way for life to return to pre-pandemic normality. More than 170,000 people in Britain have had Covid-19 on their death certificate since the pandemic began.
Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the institute, said that conspiracy theorists would try to frame measures to tackle climate change in a similar way to lockdowns — as a “loss of civil liberties and loss of freedoms”.
Such arguments would present campaigns urging people to take fewer flights, use their cars less often and eat less meat as attacks on individual freedoms rather than as efforts to avert the worst impacts of climate change through collective action.
“If you think about the Covid protest movements — be it anti-mask, anti-lockdown, or anti-vaccines — the branding and the language that’s been used by these kinds of conspiracy units has always been around,” O’Connor said. “This is a civil liberties argument.
“The climate dialogue, rhetoric and discussion is going to be rolled into that kind of civil liberties discussion; I think [that] is where you’re going to see a lot of these groups go.”
Dr Jonathan Bright, an associate professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “I think people are going to be thinking about climate change misinformation quite a lot [in 2022].”
O’Connor said that such conspiracy theorists are increasingly turning away from mainstream social media sites, warning: “Telegram has become the platform of choice for far-right, extreme right wing groups, for conspiracy communities [and] for extremist communities in general. Facebook and YouTube… they do have community guidelines, they do enforce them.
“Telegram takes largely a hands off approach to this. They have bare bones terms of service. That means that essentially they only take down threats of violence and child pornography and things like this. What that means is that Telegram is a safe space for conspiracy communities.”
Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.