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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Social Media and the Never-ending Propaganda Race on Corona Vaccine

Shahid Afzal Khan has discussed in detail how social media is used to spread false information and he, therefore, argues that to counter the pandemic, vaccine is a must; however, certain media platforms have presented the vaccine as nothing but a Jewish conspiracy to dissuade the public.

Pakistan has pulled up its socks against the deadly coronavirus as the vaccination drive is underway in the country. As per reports, health workers are being vaccinated with the China manufactured Sinopharm vaccine in the first phase of vaccination. However, Pakistan is far behind from many countries where the vaccination process began much earlier.

This delay might cost many lives but, interestingly, it appears as if the general public is least bothered about it. Instead of holding the government responsible for not starting the vaccination campaign early, many among the masses have resorted to self-concocted conspiracy theories being propagated by various social media outlets about the antidote.

A New-Era of Conspiracies through Social Media

Conspiracy theories, mind boggling stories, startling religious interpretations and social dogmas about coronavirus came to the forefront across the globe including Pakistan with the advent of the infectious virus. However, such misconceptions took a new turn when the government of Pakistan announced the vaccination drive to curb coronavirus cases in Pakistan.

Social media propaganda-mongers instantly launched a sensational campaign against the drive in a bid to attract more views on their videos. Garnering publicity through propaganda might add some viewership to them but it will take toll on the vaccination drive as viewers of such videos would be reluctant to get vaccinated, resulting in the further spread of the disease.

These conspiracy theories are the reminiscent of the propaganda that was launched against the polio vaccine in Pakistan, back in 1994, that cost the country dearly. The impact of the propaganda against polio vaccine was so immense that it still resonates among many people including parents who, even at the end of the 1st quarter of the 21st century, refuse to vaccinate their children against poliovirus.

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Most of the conspiracy theories and disinformation are shared through Facebook pages, online news sites and YouTube channels which would, later on, be shared with thousands through WhatsApp and Telegram. The most concerning element is the use of widely viewed YouTube channels having hundreds of thousands of subscribers for showing viral content against the vaccine.

Exploitation of Religious Sentiments

Haqeeqat channel is a household YouTube channel with 3.49 million subscribers and millions of views on each video. Most of the videos shared by the channel contain content based on conspiracy theories.

The channel shared a video regarding the corona vaccine and tried to establish a story that the toll of people died of coronavirus as claimed by the WHO (World Health Organization) is fake and exaggerated. In the same video, the narrator raised questions about the making of the vaccine and warned the Muslims that the makers of the coronavirus vaccine are Jews and Christians who, as per the verses of the Quran and Ahadis, are not trustworthy. The video also spread fake news that thousands of people in Australia have been diagnosed with AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, after receiving the vaccine. The video has been watched by 114,117 times so far with eight thousand likes and more than 800 comments.

In the comment section, the viewers not only appreciated the content and the so-called research done by the narrator, but also vowed to not consume any vaccination made by the Jews.

The misleading claims about tampering the record of human deaths, has already been rubbished by the World Health Organization (WHO) many times. Also, today every country has its own data of deaths caused by corona and one organization, no matter how big it is, cannot manipulate the data of countries available online for everyone.

The other claim that the influential Jewish lobby has the hegemony in making coronavirus vaccine is also false. Since the pandemic has hit the world, more than 30 pharmaceutical companies across the globe are in the race for making the vaccine and so far the vaccine made by five companies has passed the trial test phase and approved by the WHO. Another rebuttal is that Pakistan is using a Chinese manufactured vaccine that will be used in the future as well.

Read more: When will we stop believing in Coronavirus conspiracy theories?

Another similar video about the vaccine with a tinge of sensationalism and devoid of facts was posted by Knowledge Factory – a YouTube channel having 1.72 million subscribers. The channel posted a video on coronavirus, starting with a Quranic verse and thrilling background music. The video claimed from the outbreak of the virus to the launching of vaccines are all part of a big plan designed by the Jews to rule the world under one roof.

The video entails multiple misconceptions regarding the vaccine being used by the government of Pakistan, and says the vaccine will turn those addictive who would jab it.

Nanotechnology: What are the Jews planning?

Another startling claim made in the video underlines a misconception regarding the use of nanotechnology chips which, as per the narrator of the video, would be connected to 5G. This will help the Jews to control the entire world population. Interestingly, the narrator also used the terms “freemason” and “Jewish lobby” frequently to instigate people, knowing the fact that such catchy terms attract more attention among the social media users in Pakistan. The narrator went as far as making this outlandish claim that the vaccine will also control and affect changes in the DNA of the people.

As denounced by scientists, injecting microchips does not hold water scientifically, despite the fact that this claim has cropped up repeatedly in conspiracy-minded groups around the world

Another similar video with hundreds of thousands of views and likes was posted by Hasi Tv – which is another famous infotainment YouTube channel – with over a million subscribers. The video claims that Bill Gates along with the Zionist group has created the vaccine that contains RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Technology) and once a person is vaccinated, he would be controlled by these groups. The person’s emotions and even the decision-making power would be monitored by the Zionist group.

Read more: Rampant coronavirus misinformation: state-controlled media responsible for spread

Such claims, no matter how insane and baseless they sound, attract viewers who are spread across Pakistan. These misconceptions about virus and its antidotes are also being pushed through other social media platforms.

Role of Influential Personalities

Zaid Hamid, a famous firebrand strategic analyst, has also joined the bandwagon of fanning propaganda against corona vaccine using Twitter. His Twitter handle continuously spreads fallacies by sharing such videos and tweets. He goes as far as warning netizens-who wish to get vaccinated-against coronavirus of consequences including deaths and perpetual paralysis at the hands of the Jews who are behind this “infectious” vaccine.

Zaid Hamid is not alone in his bid for creating doubts about the vaccine. Another famous personality and so called motivational speaker, is Dr Muhammad Arif Siddiqui whose Facebook page has more than 250,000 likes. He, toeing the line of Zaid Hamid, also spreads misconceptions about the vaccine. In one such video posted on his YouTube channel and Facebook page, Siddiqui claimed that the only purpose of the vaccine is to exterminate the global Muslim population. He also held Bill Gates responsible by calling him a Zionist puppet.

Propaganda creating challenges for authorities 

Dr Shehryar Haider, Islamabad based medical specialist, was of the view that constant propaganda has created an atmosphere of fear among people who are indecisive about taking the jab. This, he deplored, does not augur well for the fate of coronavirus vaccine. Talking about the vaccination, he said the vaccination hasn’t started for general public. However, once it gets rolling authorities will face real challenges in convincing people to get vaccinated. He urged the government to launch a campaign to dispel fake information surrounding COVID-19 vaccine.

So far the government has been able to control the outbreak as compared to many developed countries. However, authorities need to pay heed to countering mushroomed conspiracy theories and start monitoring social sites to debunk such fabrications of one’s minds and take strict measures to save the country from falling prey to deadly coronavirus in the long run.

Read more: Trump’s questionable coronavirus theories: posts removed by Facebook and Twitter
It would not be surprising to see if people in Pakistan after being exposed to such vicious propaganda show reluctance to get vaccinated. This is exactly what went wrong with the polio vaccine which was launched in Pakistan to eradicate the virus completely. A quarter of a century has passed but the virus still haunts the habitants of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Shahid Afzal Khan is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist and currently working with the Institute of policy studies Islamabad (IPS) as a multimedia content developer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.