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Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists use vile anti-Semitic memes to spread Covid misinformation online

5 min read

Anti-vaxxers have been fuelling dangerous anti-Semitic sentiment online by circulating memes on social media comparing the Covid-19 vaccine programme to the Holocaust.

Several memes shared online by Covid deniers and anti-vaxxers compare safety measures deployed in the pandemic such as wearing masks and taking vaccines to the start of the Holocaust, i has found.

The memes suggest guidance such as rules on wearing masks and the roll-out of Covid vaccines is equivalent to the initial steps taken by the Nazi party in 1930s Germany to ostracise Jewish people at the start of the genocide.

One meme shows a swastika with a mask on it and includes the words “never forget the Nazis had a phrase ‘for your safety’” – a rationale adopted by the Nazis to implement their anti-Semitic regime.

Another shows a woman getting the vaccine with the words: “No need for gas chambers. Vaccines will do the job quietly. Nobody will even know it’s a Holocaust.”

In another meme, a man with a face visor and mask reads a book on Nazi Germany with a bubble that shows he is thinking: “How could people allow it to get to that point?”.

The memes are evidence of a dark crossover of two types of dangerous content – extreme anti-vaxx messaging, which suggests jabs are harmful and equivalent to genocide and anti-Semitic hate.

By using memes to equate the two, conspiracy theorists are undermining the systematic state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews during the Second World War.

Just last week in the US, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has previously endorsed violent and racist conspiracy theories, compared mask and vaccine mandates to the treatment of Jewish people by Nazis during the Holocaust and swiftly received backlash.

The prevalence of these types of memes appear to have increased in recent weeks, alongside a rise in anti-Semitism in the wake of the recent attacks on Gaza by Israel.

The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that works to protect British Jews from anti-Semitism, warned the social media messages can become a gateway to more hardcore anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Many of these posts evade moderation while being shared between Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, reaching countless people.

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, removed some of the memes after i pointed them out and said it is committed to removing anti-Semitic content from its site.

But the memes do not break Twitter’s current guidelines.

“The Twitter Rules prohibit hateful conduct, which includes targeting individuals on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity, and other protected categories,” a spokesperson for Twitter told i.

“We encourage people to report to us and we also have proactive systems in place to reduce the burden on the victims of all forms of harassment and abuse.”

Last week, the CST found there had been a 500 per cent rise in reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, noting 116 incidents between 8 and 18 May, during tense clashes in the Israel Palestine conflict.

Alice Marwick, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of North Carolina, told i all conspiracy theories, however detached they appear, have some root in anti-Semitism as they are ultimately “fears of Jewish control”.

She is an expert on how social media platforms like 4chan, 8chan and Reddit are used to spread extremist messaging.

And Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep, said that whether it’s QAnon, the conspiracy based on the idea a satanic global elite run the world and abuse children, or Covid denialism, conspiracies nearly always bend towards Anti-semitism due to fears of a ‘global elite’ and this has been the case from the 19th century.

Anti-vaxx is no different thanks to its roots in anti-government, anti-establishment and opposition to technology.

The 1903 fabricated text, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which claimed there was a Jewish plan for world domination, is an example of the ideas at the root of modern conspiracies and far-right extremism. Old claims are simply repackaged into new formats.

Ms Marwick said: “Disinformation that doesn’t draw on anything that people are familiar with, doesn’t catch on as much [and] these are centuries old conspiracy theories, millennia old in many cases, about the Rothschilds and George Soros [running the world].”

Dave Rich, Director of Policy at CST, warned conspiracy theories “fuel extremism and single out scapegoats for hate and abuse.”

He said: “Anyone entering the anti-vaxx world online is only ever a few clicks away from hardcore Anti-semitism and Holocaust denial, whether that is their intention or not.”

This spiral into Holocaust denialism from seemingly unrelated conspiracy theories has been reported on previously.

In summer 2020, Hope Not Hate investigated how Nazi apologists were recruiting people through Facebook groups which had no obvious link to far-right extremism or Nazism.

The organisation documented how one man fell into Holocaust denialism through watching a six-hour 5G conspiracy video. He had never expressed anything similar to this until watching the documentary.

Journalist Gregory Davis wrote: “What we are seeing in these groups illustrates a different pathway, one by which the incremental steps that build towards Holocaust denial and admiration for Hitler are in fact a progression through different conspiracy theories, which may contain anti-Semitic undertones but do necessarily require them.”

He argued belief in conspiracy theories chips away a person’s trust in evidence or history, effectively opening up their minds to Nazi sympathy.

But what are the impacts of repackaging these ideas into a meme and under the guise of anti-vaccine sentiment – is this any different to a tweet or Facebook post?

By its nature, like political cartoons, memes operate through satire and irony. It means the creator and consumer can shrug off its messaging as such, even if the concept is extremely violent or racist, Mr Ross explained.

“They function as very direct injections of assumptions that would otherwise take a long time to spell out and would look absolutely crazy if they were detailed,” he said.

He said packed into one of these memes you have Holocaust revisionism, anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories, and long traditions of anti-Semitic implications, but “people can look and laugh and shrug, saying maybe some of it is real, maybe it isn’t”.

Mr Ross argued memes help to isolate the content from any emotional response, “other than a kind of sardonic, dark irony” and that they are not perceived as jarring as if someone said those words aloud.

More people are exposed to this idea because memes are built to be replicated and distributed, he said.

Ms Marwick said: “They’re [memes are] hard to detect; they’re hard to moderate. It’s difficult for places like Facebook to remove them in any kind of automated way because you can’t really search for them so they tend to persist”

i found that one Instagram meme depicting a yellow badge, which Jewish people were forced to wear in the Holocaust to identify themselves, saying ‘not vaccinated’, also appeared on anti-vaccine Facebook and Twitter pages. The Facebook page had more 40,000 people signed up to it.

In April, comedian David Baddiel shared a picture of a protester wearing a yellow star at a protest against vaccine passports, highlighting that these sentiments were not just on social media but being carried out at public protests.

All content in this article is for informational purposes only and in no way serves as investment advice. Investing in cryptocurrencies, commodities and stocks is very risky and can lead to capital losses.

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