A fake document is exposed; a woman counters disinformation

Russ Grayson
Nov 13, 2020 · 4 min read

THE DISINFORMATION WAR continues with the release of a fake document in Victoria and a Melbourne woman taking action to provide reliable information on the Covid-19 virus and the measures taken to stem its spread.

Covid denialists continue to demonstrate their complicity in spreading socially-disruptive propaganda with the circulation of a fake document purported to come from the Victorian government’s health department.

The document claims DHHS directives, issued on October 11, warn that Victorian businesses displaying ‘no mask, no entry’ signage or that refused service to those not wearing a mask are in breach of federal discrimination laws.

“A DHHS spokeswoman confirmed to Fact Check that the department was not the source of the document,” reports RMIT-ABC FactCheck.

This latest episode is another in the denialists’ disinformation campaign that has led to confusion and social conflict during the health crisis.

Faking the Victorian government document reprises a tactic used on both sides during the Cold War.

In setting a precedent, the tactics deployed by denialists could be used in future crises to weaken the nation’s ability to deal effectively with them. This is what authoritarian states with an interest in weakening the democracies want to do.

The lesson for citizen journalists in this recent episode is to always check what denialists, whether of the Covid or global heating or any other kind say is true.

Woman uses water logic to counter disinformation

Dandenong Ranges woman, Elissa McKay, is taking a water-logic approach to countering the Covid disinformation she saw creeping into her community. Water logic is a tactic first described by Edward de Bono of going around an obstacle and wearing it away over time, like water in a stream around a rock, rather than directly confronting it. Elissa’s approach is to counter disinformation by providing reliable information on her local private blog, (Facebook presence), rather than directly argue with Covid deniers.

In an interview with ABC News, (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Elissa, a former communications adviser, explained that what worried her was : “…where people would then turn for vital health information if they were not consuming news during the pandemic”.

That came from concern about the findings of a University of Canberra project tracking the phenomenon of news fatigue, a feeling of being overwhelmed by the news and turning away from it to other sources of information or turning away from the news entirely. The phenomenon predates the arrival of the pandemic but has likely been worsened by its flood of bad news.

Women turning away from the news makes them vulnerable to disinformation

According to RMIT University’s program manager for journalism, Alex Wake, the University of Canberra research shows that women, in particular, are turning away from the news and towards social media for their information. “So they are more likely to get the anti-vaxxer story, rather than going to or to the or whatever it is to go to a verifiable news source”, she told the ABC.

Elissa said she was becoming concerned about her community’s vulnerability to disinformation. She said there are a lot of the ‘wellness community‘’ who are “very vulnerable to ‘alternative facts’, to paraphrase a Trumpism.”

This is something that has become apparent during the pandemic, and not only in Australia. Some health-conscious people interested in alternative therapies and medicines, some yoga practitioners and others fell victim to the messages coming from the Covid-denial camp and to conspiracy theories around the virus and government responses to it.

The blog shows community social media groups can be part of the answer to combating dangerous online misinformation, said Elissa.

The ABC story reports that Elissa’a response to countering disinformation differs to that of many social media sources where admins ban discussion of the virus, fearing division among participants or because the virus has been politicised.

It is an example of how some social media admins take an authoritarian approach to their work to maintain a narrow range of topics. “Off topic” has become a common reason to delete comments where someone has wants to post what they thought is of potential interest to readers.


RMIT-ABC CoronaCheck report

Tired of coronavirus conspiracy theories in your Facebook feed? So was Elissa — so she did something about it

Fact checking the news: The ABC provides fact-checking on the news here.

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