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Coronavirus and the radical right: conspiracy, disinformation, and xenophobia

by Julia DeCook | Source: openDemocracy

How is the radical right using the COVID-19 pandemic to advance their political agenda?

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Originally identified in Wuhan, China, in late December, COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that causes flu and pneumonia-like symptoms. As of March 12, 2020, the number of infected persons worldwide has surpassed 100,000, with nearly 100 countries reporting cases of the virus.

In the United States, response to the crisis has been slow. Initial reports of the virus’s presence were reported in the pacific northwest region in the Seattle area, and has since spread to nearly every single U.S. state. Notably, the response to the crisis by the right-wing media establishment may be contributing to this lack of response by the government to control the growing number of cases. In particular, the Fox News media machine, right-wing social media pages and accounts, and right-wing “celebrities” have been spreading considerable amounts of misinformation, xenophobia, and conspiracy theories about the virus.

The conspiracy theories about the virus range from it being a biological weapon created by the Chinese government, that it is a conspiracy created by U.S. democrats to prevent Trump’s reelection, or that the CIA created the virus in order to lessen China’s power. Another conspiracy theory that has been circulating, due to a QAnon conspiracy theorist on YouTube, is that the COVID-19 pandemic was created by the Pirbright Institute in England and by Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft. The themes that emerge from these conspiracy theories point to fears and anxieties typical of the right-wing surrounding globalization, multiculturalism, and government cover-ups on the level of the belief of a “New World Order.”

Additionally, Twitter analysis found that there are number of bots that are intentionally spreading disinformation about the virus and the pandemic itself, further strengthening beliefs among conspiracy theorists and the radical right that the media is “overblowing” the significance of the virus. Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has actively been retweeting and sharing information that is blatantly false about COVID-19, specifically that the U.S. has contained the virus, as well as false information about the fatality rate.

Read full article on openDemocracy.

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