In honor of April Fools’ Day, I’ve compiled lies told during the pandemic. The result, a list of over 200 false claims, was surprising and quite sad. Partly because looking at the entire work at once shocks what we’ve been through in two years of a pandemic in Brazil. Early treatment, denialism, speeches against vaccines, repeated announcements still in 2020 that the pandemic had already passed or would not be serious, contempt for the lives lost…
Elsewhere, the shock came because the vast majority of them were said by some political figure. From councilors to state deputies, from federal deputies to senators, from ministers to the president. Figures that should be an example of conduct in the biggest public health emergency of this generation made statements that can be refuted with a scientific article, a report, a check of sources or data, or even common sense. As anyone who works at Lupa painfully knows.
Most of these statements were made or replicated on social media. Given our information consumption profile, this had a devastating effect on Brazil and contributed to more people getting infected because they thought that Covid was not serious or that it could be treated with lice medicine.
Among those monitored by the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report, which studies the digital consumption of news, Brazil is one of the countries that most consume news via social networks. Brazilians are also among those who most comment and share what they read. And among those who do it most in WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Social networks are the means by which we seek, spread and criticize information, even if it comes originally from traditional media.
If much of the false information is easily verifiable, social networks would be expected to act. And they’ve been doing it. Twitter suspended accounts and YouTube began removing videos with false claims, for example. Attitudes very much approved by users, which are even more focused on elections and could save us from many of the lies we heard in the pandemic and that now get in the way of childhood vaccination.
But this moderation may have its days numbered, thanks to the fake news bill (PL 2630/2020). In the last version presented, which is about to go through the approval process in Congress, an article was included that brings parliamentary immunity to social networks.
There are millions of Brazilians living with Covid sequelae and more than 660 thousand dead. We still have regions like Amapá where less than half of the population took two doses of the vaccine. We have increasingly worse rates of childhood vaccination.
These are more than enough consequences to understand the impact that figures of public interest can have when they misinform the population in a pandemic. That’s just thinking about health information.
If the fake news bill is approved as it is, it will provide the instrument to guarantee a privileged class who can misinform without moderation and that we will have more lists of lies and avoidable suffering generated by this.
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