Dealing with Hate & Misinformation around COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 has unleashed two parallel pandemics. One is biological: COVID-19; the other is social: misinformation. Misinformation militates against our success in containing COVID-19, and threatens to undermine open society values in the post-pandemic world.

 

There are four types of actors involved in producing misinformation:

 

  1. Hate actors:

    • Blame out-groups for genesis and transmission of SARS-CoV-2;

    • Instrumentalise fears that developing countries will not respond as effectively as Western countries to oppose future migration and re-opening of borders;

    • Cast aspersions on loyalty of foreign-origin citizens, e.g. by highlighting failure to comply with national rules or claiming they are exploiting the crisis.

  2. Economically-motivated actors:

    • Cast doubt, using conspiracism and faux-populist/ anti-expert tropes, on governments and the scientific establishment in order to sell products they produce.

  3. Fringe political actors:

    • Undermine governments’ and scientific establishment’s credibility;

    • Inculcate conspiracism.

  4. Misinformed citizens.

 

This schema is of course not as sharply delineated in reality. Actors often co-opt each other’s tropes, and misinformation intermingles freely within the digital spaces in which it is spread. 

 

CCDH has been studying how identity-based hate and precursor beliefs are formulated, proselytised and weaponised in digital spaces by hate actors working in alliance with political actors. In our work to date, we have developed and deployed campaigns to disrupt hate actors’ activities.

 

COVID-19 misinformation is spread online through a similar infrastructure:

 

  1. Production of misinformation content:

    1. Fake News;

    2. Memes.

  2. Proselytisation within social media spaces:

    1. User-generated multimedia content, e.g. YouTube;

    2. Social media platforms, e.g. Facebook, Twitter;

    3. Messaging apps, e.g. WhatsApp.

 

COVID-19 has been instrumentalised to inculcate hate across a number of national, racial and religious categories, as well as to drive opposition to migration. Hatred has not been limited to Chinese people; hate actors in the UK are already using terms such as #GermJihad and Alt Right actors are using solidaristic impulses in the British public to stimulate nationalistic/ xenophobic narratives. For example we have found seemingly disconnected actors tweeting simultaneously (including bot activity) about giving the £15 million raised by Comic Relief for overseas aid instead to the NHS. CCDH is uncovering evidence of the stress induced by COVID-19 activating latent authoritarianism in members of the public and rapidly driving them down rabbit holes to extremist content.

 

There are hopes by some civil society organisations that the pandemic might stimulate cognitive shifts in the broader populace that bolster solidaristic and compassionate values. However, no positive narrative and settlement will emerge from this if nativist actors win the narrative battle.

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CCDH is using its resources, experience and insight to bolster prosocial forces, including state actors, in dealing with (a) the exploitation of COVID-19 by identity-based hate actors and (b) the social contagion of misinformation and hate relating to COVID-19.

 

Our goals are to:

 

  1. Disrupt hate actors seeking to instrumentalise COVID-19 by generating costs - economic, social and political - for their actions;

  2. Reduce the prevalence and transmission rate of misinformation about COVID-19 by disrupting the actors, systems and culture involved in spreading it.

Center for Countering Digital Hate Ltd

Company Number: 11633127
Registered Address (Please note this is not the location of our physical office):
Langley House, Park Road, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom, N2 8EY