New vaccine conspiracy theories are turning into viruses in Arabic
It’s Bill Gates Dressed like a Joker. She has fluorescent green hair, her face is painted white and a long smile is cut on her face. There is a large needle in his hand, filled with bright green liquid. The Facebook message has been shared more than 700 times and seen by thousands of people. Beneath it, a title teases Gates ’“ horror plan ”. It’s a baseless conspiracy theory that has violated Facebook during the pandemic. But this message is different. It’s in Arabic, and it’s just an example of a much bigger problem.
In many Arab pages and groups, the dangerous conspiracy theories about the pandemic are gathering millions of views and likes. New Research at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), Shared with WIRED, that vaccine fakes are spreading in Arabic on Facebook. Sophisticated disinformation operations have garnered millions of views on videos promoting vaccine misinformation and generated hundreds of thousands of followers. And Facebook has been repeatedly criticized for not addressing the issue in English, with little attention paid to the scale of the issue in Arabic, a language spoken by more than 400 million people.
From January 1 to February 28, ISD researchers found 18 Facebook pages and ten groups that shared pandemic-related misinformation and conspiracy theories in Arabic. They had a follow-up of more than 2.4 million people. “It was very easy to find this content,” says Moustafa Ayad, ISD’s executive director for Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Facebook’s popularity in the Arab world has risen in recent years, with more than 164 million monthly active users It was reported in 2019.
Realizing the size of the Arab disinformation problem on Facebook, analysts Ayad and ISD Ciaran O’Connor searched the pages and groups that created and used a list of words related to the key pandemic. Using CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool, they photographed the most prominent communities, including groups of 100,000 members and pages with 650,000 followers.
Some are silly: the names of the groups, when translated from Arabic, included phrases like “Corona lie”, “Covid-19 conspiracy” and “No vaccine Corona is not finished”. The publications on these pages contain false claims about the components, production, and dissemination of vaccines. They also spread baseless conspiracy theories that claim that the world is coming to an end and that the pandemic has been fabricated as a way to control people.
Between lies and false mud, Gates appears as a common theme. The founder of Microsoft is the main figure in Western conspiracy theories about the pandemic, and these same lies have been translated into Arabic by adding text or voice-overs to videos and images. One page, which has more than 134,000 likes, has prompted a video about Gates ’“ horror plan, ”unfoundedly accusing him of wanting to make money from depopulated planets and vaccines. (There is there is no evidence that this is true.)
Among other conspiracy theories related to Gates that have gone viral on Facebook, he recommends that people “get ready for the Hunger Games”. Another video shows her lips sewn together. Many videos have been shared hundreds of times. “I’m talking about videos that Bill Gates has of millions of views on blocking the sun, or whether Bill Gates intends to put an individual’s mark on the beast by injection,” Ayad says.
The videos are so absurd and are so falsely fake that Facebook should make it easy to proactively identify and remove them, say ISD researchers. According to their report, Facebook’s moderation in misinformation in Arabic is not as effective as in English. “You can’t just target a portion of Facebook,” Ayad says. “You need to address all communities.”