May 18, 2024

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“Zombie” disinformation is endlessly updated

“Zombie” disinformation is endlessly updated

(WASHINGTON) Immigration, vaccinations, child abduction at a pizzeria: Although they have been repeatedly denied, old conspiracy theories are resurfacing in America ahead of the presidential election, recycling false information that observers call “zombies.” Again and again in a highly polarized country.


The misinformation could affect voters on Nov. 5, when they must vote between outgoing Democratic President Joe Biden and his top Republican rival, Donald Trump.

Especially in the name of freedom of expression, advocated by the leader of X Elon Musk, but also because of the cost-cutting policy, they are proliferating in social networks that are excessively limited.

“These kinds of false statements are repeated so often that they become gospel to those who believe them,” Mike Rothschild, an expert on conspiracy theories, explains to AFP.

“The same clichés are endlessly recycled, and it works because they always appeal to a certain type of person,” he observes.

The topic of immigration is a major source of misinformation as the United States records the number of arrivals from the Mexican border. Some, like Elon Musk, claim that Democrats are recruiting these immigrants to win elections.

However, immigrants did not have immediate citizenship and voting rights.

But in a campaign where anti-immigration stances are common, the theory continues to resonate with a segment of the electorate, particularly on the right.

“Beesgate”

Other conspiracy theories involve, for example, vaccines being considered harmful or ineffective according to a thesis that has re-emerged with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The latest misinformation on the matter came during the campaign of Robert Kennedy Jr., an independent candidate known as “RFK Jr.” This member of the famous Kennedy dynasty has repeatedly spread the word about vaccination over the years.

The anti-vaccine community is “stronger than it was before the pandemic,” notes Colina Goldai, a researcher at Bellingate, an online investigative group.

“RFK is becoming very popular,” he told AFP. “He's a well-known anti-vaxxer. It's nothing”.

According to analysts, mistrust of institutions supports the spread of “zombie” misinformation. Like “Pizzagate”: A conspiracy theory linking a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., to an underground child-sex trafficking ring involving Democratic officials.

This theory has been completely debunked since 2016, although the popular conspiracy known as QAnon has become a nebula. Internet users, starting with Elon Musk, continue to relay it.

“Confirmation Bias”

Playing on deep fears, “zombie” accusations are often more powerful than their denials, because the latter come from officials perceived to be part of a corrupt organization or part of the “establishment,” notes Mert Beyer, an expert on conspiracy theories. University of Washington.

Another baseless allegation, repeatedly denied: that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election due to fraud. However, the former president rarely misses an opportunity to mention the alleged “rigging” of the last presidential election.

Analysts say those who spread misinformation are not only politically motivated, but often financially motivated as well. According to them, X's ad revenue system promotes extremist content with the intention of inducing internet user participation.

And they tend to follow accounts that reinforce their beliefs. “This can largely be attributed to a cognitive bias called confirmation bias,” says Mert Beyer. Because beyond political and financial interests, many people “truly believe” the “zombie” theories they propagate.

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