Coronavirus pandemic has been accompanied with a dissemination of fake news and conspiracy theories. Georgia was no exception, as various groups, including pro-Kremlin, ultra-national, and radical groups have been referring to COVID-19 as an artificially created virus, spreading fear, and associating the virus with the 5G Internet.
One of the authors of the disinformation and conspiracy theories is Guram Kartvelishvili, a director, associated with an ultra-national movement “Georgian March”, who recorded several videos about the coronavirus that have been disseminated by various Facebook pages afterwards. Kartvelishvili’s videos contained both fake information and conspiracy narratives:
- Novel coronavirus is an artificially imposed issue and we are actually dealing with an ordinary flu.
Novel coronavirus is not an ordinary flu. Both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu are respiratory diseases, but as studies show, the novel coronavirus spreads more rapidly. Unlike the seasonal flu, no specific average death rate is known for COVID-19, as it varies by countries. In addition, questions arise concerning the veracity of the figures, shared by authoritarian governments.
Apart from the death rate, symptoms are important, too. While the seasonal flu is an infection, widely known among the medical professionals, there is no conclusive evidence on the symptoms of COVID-19, making the coronavirus a bigger threat from the point of view of availability of information, too.
The message that the coronavirus is not dangerous and does not differ from the seasonal flu gives rise to various conspiracies. Other narratives have been constructed based on this message, which include governments forcedly locking people up in their homes, the coronavirus being a scam for testing vaccines, it being used to decrease the population etc.
- 5G mobile Internet is used to manipulate masses, 5G emits fear impulses that allow the governments to disperse large masses.
In one of his video statements, Kartvelishvili discusses 5G mobile Internet in the context of disseminating the coronavirus and the measures imposed by the governments. He claims that the new mobile Internet technology allows the governments to control large masses. Moreover, he disseminates the disinformation that 5G causes various diseases, such as leukemia and mental disorder. Kartvelishvili, the associate of “Georgian March”, is not the only one disseminating these conspiracies in Georgia. A Facebook group called “STOP 5G GEORGIA!!!” has been created, which includes more than 22,000 members.
Examples of Posts Shared in the Group.
- COVID-19 is a weapon against disobedient countries like Italy, while liberal Sweden has not had any strict measures
With this message, Kartvelishvili is trying to discuss the lockdown measures in European countries in the context of migration, as if Italy has seen the imposition of strict measures due to its harsh position towards migrants. Sweden, which chose not to lock down the country, is cited as an opposite example. The author believes that Sweden has not been put on lockdown precisely because it is a more liberal country than Italy.
- The coronavirus is a conspiracy of neoliberals against the Orthodox Christians.
This message became especially strong in the pre-Easter period, when pro-Russian and Georgian Orthodox Church-associated groups considered the various measures imposed by the Government of Georgia in the context of fighting the Church. This narrative is not novel for the anti-Western propaganda in Georgia and is, in fact, one of the most widespread messages. For years, the anti-Western propaganda has capitalized on the identity deprivation conspiracy – as if the Western institutes endanger the Georgian national, religious, and gender identity. Portraying coronavirus as a neoliberal conspiracy against the Georgian Church is a part of precisely this propaganda.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Mari Khoperia, University of Georgia, Tblisi, Georgia
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