A Different Kind of Virus

Perhaps more contagious than COVID?

Viruses get into our bodies from outside sources and then overwhelm human auto immune systems to infect – sometimes fatally —a significant proportion of people.

A virus’s only mission is reproduction – to find and inhabit as many host bodies as can be found, as quickly as possible.   

It is much the same with disinformation. False information distributed with malicious intent gets into the human brain and overwhelms our natural defenses (logic and skepticism, primarily) to gain a foothold from which to spread unimpeded.  

Social science has taught us that lies—especially big, deliberate lies, repeated endlessly – take on REAL meaning in the minds of millions of people who quickly lose the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. And, those BIG LIES thus become INESCAPABLE TRUTHS in the minds of those people.

That is CONTAGION!

Our country has suffered periods of disinformation contagion before, of course. The Salem Witch Trials are one famous example; Joe McCarthy another. In both cases, mass hysteria fanned by lies consumed a village, then a nation, albeit with far different consequences for its victims.

Today, the challenges are graver, the scope of infection broader, and the dangers exponentially larger. The misinformation virus has infected tens of millions of people and, unlike its biological counterparts, has been able to build a vast infrastructure to support its spread.

Consider Q-Anon, once noteworthy largely for the wackiness of the conspiracy fantasy at its core – an indiscernible plot for domination by a cabal of Satanist, child-predator cannibals led by a “deep state” embedded across the government. For four years, the anonymous “Q” posted Nostradamus-like blather about a coming “Storm” in which the forces of good, led by a sympathetic president, would rise up to save the day.

Then that sympathetic president left office — after his own efforts to foment a “storm” led to a deadly invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

The tortuous beliefs of its adherents proven wrong by the course of events, some awoke from their fever dream, perhaps a little embarrassed, and realized they’d been “had.” More, however, chose to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Many still believe that their Orange Messiah will somehow rise from the ashes of his failed presidency to save the country. Others have joined ranks with the “sovereign citizen” movement that asserts the U.S. was secretly converted to a corporation in 1871 (and therefore has no authority over them). They even have a new day of reckoning: March 4 (the original inauguration date outlined in the Constitution), when democratic rule will be restored to the nation and its true 19th president (guess who?) will be inaugurated.

Operating from a fact-free foundation, the disseminators of disinformation need not be troubled by real-world developments that undermine their cause; the amorphous nature of the conspiracy makes it easy to switch gears when events prove problematic. The only mission of disinformation is reproduction, to propagate itself far and wide to better infect the vulnerable among us.

There are two contagions raging among us, one deadly to humans, the other fatal to democracy. Stopping both in their tracks is the momentous challenge of our times.

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