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Czech and Slovak-language disinformation about COVID-19: Lies about testing, facemasks and Bill Gates

8.11.2020 15:58
Facts and myths - COVID-19
Facts and myths - COVID-19

Czech and Slovak-language social media is currently flooded with disinformation, hoaxes and manipulations around the COVID-19 pandemic. The most frequently-shared subjects include trivialization of the disease; allegations that "global elites" and businesses, especially the pharmaceutical industry, are exploiting the pandemic as a means to achieve malevolent aims; and unfounded rejection of preventive measures such as wearing facemasks or the idea of eventually being vaccinated against the virus. 

At the beginning of the crisis this year, another such subject was the unfounded allegation that the virus was artificially created. Disinformation about the various tests used to detect its presence also repeatedly resurfaces.

It is interesting that the disinformation and hoaxes are very frequently disseminated in Czech from the same circles of people who previously spread untrue information about migrants or Romani people. What is even more startling is that Romani people using the Czech-language Internet are receiving these absurdities from those circles and then sharing them.

The solution to keeping people from being hooked by these untrue allegations is to choose your information from verified sources and to reflect critically over what to share with others instead of immediately, mindlessly passing on "sensational" information. News server Romea.cz has prepared an overview of the most frequently-shared absurdities about the COVID-19 pandemic currently circulating in Czech online.

Myth # 1 : "COVID-19 is a con"

Articles are appearing in different variations about the COVID-19 pandemic alleging that it actually is not a pandemic, and they are being shared thousands of times. The highest rate of sharing has been given to a text alleging that "if there were a pandemic in the world, each of us would know several of those who have died or who are or have been very badly affected by the illness."

That article presents COVID-19 as a con, the purpose of which is to allegedly establish a "New World Order". However, the argumentation in the article ignores basic facts, including the fact that as of the start of November 2020, more than 46 million people worldwide are recorded as having caught the virus and more than 1.2 million deaths have been reported of people who had the novel coronavirus in their bodies when they died. 

This particular manipulative text has been unjustifiably ascribed to MUDr. Miroslava Skovajsová as its alleged author. She has distanced herself from its untrue claims.

That is just one of the tactics used by the authors or disseminators of different hoaxes - falsely ascribing articles to various famous or recognized figures in order to beef up the credibility of the piece and thereby guarantee it will be shared even more broadly. A video is also being shared in the Czech Republic alleging that there is no disease and that those hospitalized in Germany are actually actors performing for the cameras.    

"Has an extra been hired in Germany to play the role of lying in hospital half-dead with the coronavirus? A young woman got such a commission, is performing the role, and is being paid to do it," the description accompanying the online video claims.

Actually, the video is of a training exercise, as the young woman in the video footage explains herself. In the upper left-hand corner of the video her Instagram user name can be seen, which is "Officialmelisa".  

In her video, the Instragrammer says it is footage of a "test run" in a "new coronavirus center". She emphasizes that she herself is not ill and is shown holding a printout describing the role she is playing and how it relates to the training exercise. 

Myth # 2 : Delivery of test "results" to people who never gave samples

Another very popular story making the rounds on Czech social media is the allegation that test results will come to you even if you have never given samples for testing. "After three hours of waiting in line for tests, my acquaintances gave up and left. Later they got an SMS informing them that they are COVID positive," alleges one of the most widespread hoaxes on the Czech Internet associated with the novel coronavirus. 

While the wordings of these allegations differ, they describe various people leaving the line for testing (acquaintances, a neighbor, relatives, etc.). The message of the story always remains the same, though. 

Practically every entity online who is rejecting the measures that have been instituted to combat COVID-19 allegedly knows somebody to whom this has happened. The aim of the message is to cast doubt on official data from the Health Ministry about the daily numbers of new infections. 

This hoax has been refuted in detail by the Manipulátoři.cz news server, which has pointed out several of the illogical aspects of this legend. For example, when someone is sent for COVID-19 testing via an electronic request, they do not wait for the test for hours - the electronic registration, instruction and assignment of a specific person to a specific test occurs right before the test is performed (after standing in line).

Myth # 3 : "They put a microchip in you during the testing"

An absolutely bonkers conspiracy theory that has been disseminated, for example, by Vladimíra Vítová's "Alliance of National Forces" (Aliance národních sil) alleges that during testing for COVID-19 a microchip is implanted in the subject's nose. This theory alleges that the sample is taken from very far inside the nasal cavity so that the microchip cannot ever be removed.

"The method of taking the sample is performed in this particular way because one must insert the sampling swab far inside the nasopharynx. Even older textbooks describe such sampling has having to be performed in such a way that tears flow from the patient's eyes. It must be what I would call a rough swab if we are to recover the correct material for testing at all. If we were to inspect samples just from the outer edge of the nasal opening, the sample would be more likely to be negative," Zdeňka Jágrová, director of the Prague Municipal Public Health Department, informed news server Manipulátoři.cz when asked to explain the actual reasons the testing is so invasive.       

Myth # 4 : Coded messages everywhere

Warnings against COVID-19 testing are also spreading on Czech social media alleging that the name of the company performing the tests is Latin for "They will die" and that the mobile testing centers have the Egyptian god of death in their logo. This is yet another hoax.  

The company at issue, Ipsos MORI, has nothing to do with COVID-19 testing, but is a market research firm, while the animal depicted in the logo for the mobile testing centers is a Cape Rattlesnake. Nevertheless, the false alarm was spread on Czech Facebook through a post on 3 October 2020 that was shared by more than 2 400 users. 

"Do not allow yourself to be tested no matter what!!" the post said. It went on to allege that the name of the "company doing the testing" was Ipsos Mori, which means "They will die", and that the Egyptian god of death Anubis is featured in the logo of the mobile testing centers. 

The phrase "Ipsos mori" can indeed be translated as "they themselves die/will die", but the company's website says its name, Ipsos MORI, does not have any deeper meaning. Agence-France Presse (AFP) reports that the company of that name was created by a merger in 2005 between the Ipsos firm, which was established in 1975 in France and takes its name from the Latin phrase "ipso facto", and the British company Market and Opinion Research International (MORI), established in 1969.

Myth # 5 : Harmful facemasks and carbon dioxide

"What are you waiting for? More children to be smothered to death in facemasks? How many more will there be? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? Or a thousand? Rise up and take to the streets!" a German physician named Dr. Bodo Schiffman was quoted as saying by the Arfa.cz disinformation server, one that frequently spreads absurdities about COVID-19, after two mysterious deaths of children caused Schiffman to call on parents and others to commit civil disobedience against the alleged "corona-tyranny".   

As the fact-checking website Correctiv points out, Schiffman has authored many untrue allegations about the current pandemic. The deaths he was referring to in this post actually happened, but not in associatoin with facemasks.

No cause of death has yet been ascertained for the cases cited and it has not been confirmed that facemasks had anything to do with causing them. Both facemasks and respirators are designed to be breathable; they do not cause a lack of oxygen and carbon dioxide does not accumulate in them, as has been alleged.   

If facemasks and respirators actually caused confusion and fatigue, health workers who use them daily would be unable to perform their jobs. Neither facemasks nor respirators would ever have become standard equipment in operating rooms, infectious diseases wards and many others, according to AFP, which has dedicated detailed reporting to the hoax about the children's deaths and published it in Czech.

The professionally-produced disinformation video "Plandemic"

In addition to the widest possible variety of "chain" disinformation status updates on social media, there are also rather well-produced disinformation videos circulating through the Internet. One is the globally successful, high-quality production entitled "Plandemic", which has been seen by millions since May 2020 and keeps on being viewed despite the fact that online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube are attempting to stop it being disseminated further. 

The video features the "confessions" of Judy Mikovits, a former scientist who became infamous for her con artistry around a study that allegedly proved an association between a newly-discovered retrovirus called XMRV (a xenotropic virus similar to the one that causes leukemia in mice) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In "Plandemic" she alleges, for example, that wearing facemasks and other protective equipment "activates" COVID-19.

Mikovits also alleges in the pseudo-documentary that the COVID-19 pandemic is just a pretext for what she calls the "vaccine lobby" to get as many people vaccinated as possible. A sequel to "Plandemic" began to be disseminated online in September and features, for example, a doctor named Meryl Nass who believes the novel coronavirus is not of natural origin, an allegation that experts have labeled untrue. 

TV Chebsko and the video "Covid-íš"

The Czech-language Internet features a professionally-produced video called "Covid-íš", which was released by the online TV Chebsko portal at the beginning of October. The video is full of deceptive, misleading allegations and has been seen by hundreds of thousands of social media users. 

Dissemination of the video, which casts doubt on the COVID-19 data published by the Czech Health Ministry, is again aided in this instance by the high production quality and trained voice of the moderator of the "reportage". The video does its best to create the impression that "somebody" is manipulating the public about the pandemic.  

The video's allegations that the media are reporting information that is different from the official data released by the Czech Health Ministry are untrue. The other alleged "manipulations" the video claims to have discovered are also irrelevant. 

Allegations involving Bill Gates

Disinformation media outlets are calling the American businessman Bill Gates a member of the Illuminati, a manipulator, and even a potential murderer. Hoaxes about this particular billionaire have been summarized by the Slovak news server Antipropaganda.sk.

According to that fact-checking website, Gates established the Microsoft corporation, which developed personal computers for use by ordinary people. His assets are estimated at USD 100 billion and he is exceptionally active as a philanthropist along with his wife Melinda.

Together, the Gates couple have established charity organizations that have long been providing aid to adults and children worldwide. Their money has provided financial support for educating minorities and has financed research into developing or improving vaccines against diseases such as AIDS, measles and polio. 

Fictions about the allegedly sinister plans of Gates to "reduce the population" have been circulating on the Internet for many years. With the advent of COVID-19, however, Internet trolls who traffic in such content have become even more creative. 

According to conspiracy theorists and disinformation peddlers, Gates is allegedly planning to implant micropchips in people worldwide. In Slovakia, this microchip theory has been presented by the convicted fascist politician Marián Kotleba.

In a recent video, Kotleba presented several absurd associations between the current pandemic and the Bible and warned people against being vaccinated for COVID-19. According to this propaganda, Gates has allegedly admitted that his vaccine will kill 700 000 people - an allegation that has of course proven to be foolish.  

The excerpted video footage of Gates discussing the possible undesirable side effects of any vaccine that is being used for this propaganda features him making a hypothetical estimate. In the excerpt, he explains that any vaccine could have 10 000 side effects, which means unwanted side effects could appear among as many as 700 000 people. 

Other disinformation sources are calling Gates the creator of COVID-19, alleging that he developed and disseminated it through his connections in the so-called "deep state". This is an alleged group of never-identified people who are supposedly doing their best to undermine and then replace official institutions in the United States of America. 

Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Dezinformace, Extremism, Hoax



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