The violent protest in Dublin last weekend has highlighted the role of coronavirus conspiracy theories in towns and cities across Ireland – but what should you do if a loved one has fallen down the misinformation rabbit hole?
Newstalk reporter Henry McKean met some of those involved in the protest this morning as part of a special report for The Pat Kenny Show.
He also spoke to Dr Lucy Michael, spokesperson for Fingal Communities Against Racism and Commission Member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
She told Henry that far-right groups are attempting to radicalise small business owners by preying on the anxiety and isolation caused by coronavirus lockdowns.
“We have been working, really for the last year and a half, on addressing misinformation which we saw coming up in our local areas, first attached to racism and anti-immigrant hate but then moving towards COVID as the virus and the lockdowns took hold, taking a grip on people’s anxieties and their isolation,” she said.
“Particularly the extensive use of social media and the internet […] to bring people into a movement that is very much about misinformation, very much about building mistrust of mainstream media - even some independent media - and particularly, of Government.
“As people have become more frustrated in Lockdown Two and Lockdown Three, not seeing the kind of governance and trust we saw in Lockdown One, they have managed to play on those fears.
One of the protesters told Henry that he does not view himself as a conspiracy theorist - before going on to claim that Microsoft founder Bill Gates “wants to bring society to its knees basically.”
He said he never listens to mainstream media like Newstalk and RTÉ because "they are the virus."
“I am not an anti-vaxxer but this is not a vaccine. It is an experimental therapy. An RDNA experimental therapy.
“There is nothing preventing you, in this so-called vaccine, from catching your so-called disease.”
“I have been listening to doctors and specialists in that region, in disease, and independent journalists not connected the main-stream crap that you produce.”
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are MRNA-based vaccines that are highly effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms, illness and hospitalisation.
Studies from countries with high levels of vaccination suggest they also assist in reducing transmission.
The protester claimed all the information distributed on leaflets at Saturday’s protest is “common knowledge.”
He claimed that the Irish Government, "is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in this country" before adding, "They will be brought to justice in a world court - like a Nuremburg trial.”
He refused to tell Henry whether he would wear a mask in the shop, labelling that a “very personal question” and went on to claim that masks are mandated to keep people afraid of the “scamdemic.”
Dr Michael said the people behind the misinformation “know exactly what they are doing” and are well-funded from abroad.
“Many of them are making a career out of this,” she said. “They are making money out of this.
“Some of those far-right activists even have online merchandise shops. This is absolutely about a career and they are being funded very, very heavily from abroad to have this agenda.”
She said the best way to approach a family member who has been radicalised is to talk to them and listen to them
“They will not be convinced by an argument that they shouldn’t be on the internet or they are being silly,” she said, "but don’t try and reason them out of it either immediately.
“The first thing is that they feel that you are listening. We talk about empathetic listening – so being human with someone – but not sympathetic listening. Once they think you are sympathetic to their ideas, they will simply try to recruit you into believing the same thing to and try to pull you in their direction.
“They are clearly feeling isolated, under pressure and segregated and they are turning to groups that are listening to them and coming up with explanations for what has been happening.”
She said it is important to approach someone privately if you notice them posting misinformation online.
“Give them a call or a private message,” she said. “Arrange a chat and, when we are allowed, go for a walk with them but don’t argue back on Facebook because that really is a way to drive them away from you and then you lose that opportunity.”
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