Over 100 people gathered outside Parliament in Victoria and a small crowd gathered in Sydney to protest blockages, “tracking apps” and vaccines.
The weekend protests were promoted on various Facebook groups linked to marginal conspiracy groups, including QAnon and various anti-vaxxers, with numerous signs at protests targeting Microsoft founder Bill Gates for his work on vaccines – a popular target for conspiracy theorists.
It is understood that Facebook has deleted events encouraging people to break the rules of physical distancing, and on one of the pages promoting the demonstrations, several messages have been deleted for violating Facebook guidelines.
The rallies followed much larger protests in the United States in recent weeks, with Australian protesters copying slogans and promoting similar conspiracy theories. The theme of the posts on some of the group’s pages behind the weekend’s protests mimics those seen in far-right groups in the United States.
But groups often diverge in what they believe, the only common denominator being an alleged link to the coronavirus pandemic.
Axel Bruns, a professor of digital media research at the Queensland University of Technology, told Guardian Australia that the pandemic brought together very different conspiracy theories.
“Any group with preexisting conspiracy theories has also projected their conspiracy theories onto the crown crisis,” he said.
“Whether it’s anti-vaxxers or anti-5G … it’s very likely that all of these groups believe that there is an underlying story that is not being told to them. “
Part of the problem, he said, is that information about the coronavirus is slow to emerge when the pandemic sets in.
“There was a real information vacuum, even the authorities did not have all the answers and could not have all the answers at this stage. This is always what happens at the start of a major crisis, “he said.
Contrary to anti-lockdown protests in the United States, Australia so far has been relatively small. Bruns blames this on a lack of a pre-existing network and the Australian government’s response to the economic impact.
“We will probably not get to [US] because we don’t have the undergrowth of conspiracy theorists or existing marginal groups, but it will be interesting to see how things evolve as people get fed up with ongoing restrictions or blockages.
“It’s bad enough, but it’s certainly not as polarized and as dysfunctional as it is in the United States … it’s easy to attract people who are already upset, annoyed and frustrated enough. And here, I think we have managed to avoid that much more than them. “
Conspiracy theories involving 5G emerged at the Melbourne demonstration, some in comments from one of the groups linking the Cedar Meats epidemic to a nearby phone tower.
Chief Health Officer Brendan Murphy called the 5G connection coronavirus “stupid misinformation.”
“There is absolutely no evidence that 5G is doing anything in the coronavirus space,” he said on Sunday. “Unfortunately, I have received many communications from these conspiracy theorists myself. This is completely absurd – 5G has nothing to do with coronavirus. “
A search for tower licenses on the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s website reveals that Telstra did not obtain a license for its 5G network there earlier this month – well after the outbreak.
Another virulent conspiracy theory that emerged during the protest and in groups is Plandemic, a video making statements about the origins of Covid-19 which was shared by famed chef Pete Evans and NRL Wag Taylor Winterstein.
Plandemic has been viewed over 2.2 million times in a few days and has been shared by celebrities and other influencers around the world on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. It was produced by Mikki Willis and has an interview with Judy Mikovits, a discredited researcher who makes a number of inaccurate statements about the origins of Covid-19. One of the claims, among others, is that Covid-19 is rumored to force vaccines to the public as a form of control.
Mikovits also wrongly claims that you can retransmit the coronavirus to yourself by wearing a face mask.
“I would love to know your thoughts because the interviewee has a fascinating story. what is the truth? Evans wrote to his 1.4 million Facebook followers.
“Dr. Judy Mikovits has been silenced and gagged for years due to his groundbreaking research,” said Winterstein on his “Taylor’s Way” Facebook page.
“I honestly think it’s a divine timing, during this PLANdemie, she has the ability to express herself again !! God knows we need his voice more than ever. “
Facebook has started labeling the video demystified, linking to a post that exposes the video’s false claims, and preventing it from being posted.
“Suggesting that wearing a mask can make you sick could cause imminent damage, so we’re removing the video,” a Facebook spokesperson for Guardian Australia said.
As often happens, when links are removed or banned from certain platforms, they are shared from lesser known sites. Guardian Australia observed that external links to the video are still available on Facebook, including the Winterstein page.
Vimeo and YouTube have also been reported to delete the video.
Brun said celebrities who share such conspiracy theories give him credibility in the eyes of some, even if it is not their area of expertise, and help him travel further.
“It’s this kind of name recognition that ultimately makes you take a closer look at what someone like that shares than the real experts in the field, which, thankfully, you’ve never heard of before.” “