In February, Rockwell was overcoming grief and finally starting to experience moments of joy. But then, to her horror, social media users started using her posts to spread the false claim that she miscarried as a result of the shooting.
“They told me horrible things, like how could I possibly get the vaccine, that I was a killer baby, and that I would be infertile forever and that I would never have a baby again,” Rockwell said. , a 39-year-old family physician physician from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Although she knows research shows the vaccine is safe for pregnant women, she said the messages brought her trauma to the surface and hurt her “deeply”.
From a master of movie props in Texas to a professor in New York City, people across the country have found themselves drawn into the maelstrom of disinformation, their online posts or their identities even hijacked by anti-vaccine campaigners and others peddling lies about the epidemic.
Sharing other people’s posts or photos out of context is a common tactic in the misinformation playbook because it’s “an easy and inexpensive way to gain credibility,” said Lisa Fazio, professor of psychology. at Vanderbilt University which studies the spread of misrepresentation.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts warn that false or misleading messages can mean the difference between someone taking precautions or not.
“When you’re in a situation where the world is confusing, you try to hold on to what’s true. A common suggestion is to listen to the experts, ”Fazio said. “If people masquerade as these experts or take that credibility away, it can cause a lot of havoc.”
Scott Reeder, a master of movie and TV props in Austin, Texas who frequently shares movie industry jokes and secrets with his 1 million TikTok subscribers, posted a short video in September showing how retractable knives, syringes and ice picks are used on a movie set. .
In December, he learned that a clip of the footage was being misused on Facebook and Twitter. Someone had isolated the part of the video where he thrust the spring loaded syringe into his arm and mistakenly claimed that politicians abroad are using the devices to fake their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Reeder was able to tamp the lies with the help of TikTok followers who vouched for him and by posting a second video describing the disinformation. But it upsets him that his posts were used to promote a conspiracy theory he knows to be false.
“I’m just trying to make people laugh with my dad’s jokes and my prop info,” Reeder said. “But people are just trying to entice you or use your content to advance their agenda. “
A false claim claimed that Oswald had done research that revealed COVID-19 was “just another strain of the flu.” Some of the messages included his professional photo and his office address.
“He said I had some kind of lab in California. He said I was a virologist. None of this is true, ”Oswald said. “I was pretty horrified by it all, obviously.
Oswald, who does not study viruses in his work, disowned the posts on his professional webpage and responded to every message he received with the truth, although some refused to believe him.
Powerful or dramatic claims can be particularly difficult to eliminate.
“Cornell professor warns of COVID, it’s annoying. The same professor saying COVID is a hoax, well, it’s interesting and guarantees trafficking, ”said Elias Aboujaoude, a professor at Stanford University who studies the intersection of psychology and technology.
She now offers phone and email support to those who have found themselves in her place, including Rockwell.
“I look back on that time in January now, in fact, with gratitude, because it got me to where I am right now,” Baldwin said. “But during that time that I was there in January, I certainly wasn’t saying, ‘Yeah, that’s amazing.’ So I try to help other people.