Famous Croatian singer Tony Cetinski expressed his fear of vaccinating and chipping by claiming it is becoming mandatory and going as far as to predict that the future COVID-19 vaccine will be a disguise for injecting people with microchips. This happened on Facebook and Instagram and soon became the “talk of the town” across Croatian mainstream media channels.
Tony Cetinski, in a post on his Facebook profile in May said: “This is the last I have to say about vaccination. Chipping will also, as it seems, go under mandatory principle”, echoed far and beyond Croatian public sphere. As the topic continues to rile up his supporters as well as his opponents, we decided to check the stronghold of this particular claim, but also the discourse around it, which is ever so topical.
During the pandemic of COVID-19 not only the virus is spreading by an enormous rate. Conspiracy theories resulting in a huge number of fake news are taking more space in the public than ever before thus affecting opinions and lives of many. World Health Organisation even called this phenomenon – ”infodemic”.
COVID-19 vaccine is not even fully developed by scientists and it has already initiated many discussions. From government officials deciding on vaccination being mandatory and possible injection of the microchip through COVID-19 vaccination procedure to the standard so called “anti-vax” theories.
It seems like “anti-vaxxers” have taken this pandemic as an opportunity to boost their movements in peculiar ways. This situation is also used for political propaganda and obtaining leverage in upcoming elections by some populist parties. Previous fake news and false statements of this kind are numerous: Bill Gates trying to make COVID-19 vaccine a mandatory one for the purpose of microchipping and tracking people; widely spread alleged statement of the president of the European Commission on vaccine being mandatory and expensive; video montage of thousands of people protesting against mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in Poland. These “fake news” which are spread across multiple media outlets are just threads composing a massive conspiracy theory web.
In this case we are talking of a regionally well-known singer with a big auditorium using it for the anti-vaccination private campaign of some kind. This specific statement of Tony Cetinski can be put side by side with other conspiracy theories on this topic. Though singer later tried to explain he wasn’t talking about microchipping during the vaccination procedure, he first clearly stated otherwise. Still, he was and remained persistent with his claims that vaccination will be mandatory. On a daily basis, Cetinski, on his social media channels, has been pointing out people’s right to refuse to undergo any vaccination procedures themselves and in their children’s name. He even goes as far as posting questionable lists of alleged components and dangers of various common vaccines.
Nonetheless, our research shows that a statement of this kind is by all means false and has no base in scientific discoveries nor is confirmed by any treaties signed by politicians. Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and politicians signing agreements on that matter has been proven false several times since corona virus outbreak. In Croatia, like in every country, list of mandatory vaccines is written and published by the Institute of Public Health. No decisions are made and no treaties are signed by the current Croatian right-wing government on the matter of microchipping or mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. The newest governments’ decisions on combating corona virus with the help of a new mobile app, that is being developed for few weeks now, is the closest to artificial intelligence tracking movement and contacts of Croatian citizens.
Moreover, according to American Veterinary Medical Association microchipping is a process which, biologically speaking, is not done through blood stream. It usually acquires thick skin layer where it is typically put, using a hypodermic needle, in many mammals such as dogs and cats. This ensures it staying in one place. According to AVMS microchip is not a GPS device and cannot track animals. Scientifically, correlation between vaccination and microchipping is not found as scientists emphasize every time a disinformation on this matter is published. In conclusion, as one Croatian molecular biologist claimed, saying that governments would microchip us to track our movement and obtain control over us, is more than illogical when given the fact we already live in a society with a high percent of mobile phone users, GPS tracking systems, satellites and other advanced technology we use every day claims
Giving expertise across social networks on a topic that is, by all logic, to be discussed by experts and spreading conspiracy theories is a new pastime for multiple Croatian and worldwide celebrities.
Cetinski is by no means the first public person to bring light onto the anti-vaxing theory. The most prominent one in Croatia is, to this day, well-known populist politician Ivan Pernar. He immediately supported Cetinski on his social media profiles. However, Cetinski’s biggest famous supporter is Dejan Lovren, FC Liverpool and Croatian national team player. Soon after he expressed his agreement with Cetinski, the two held another Facebook livestream. Context for this could be tracked to Croatia national football team’s success in the 2018 World Cup. Pernar was quick to realize this, so he has publicly claimed that Lovren said how the entire national team is behind him in a telephone conversation.
The feedback went both ways resulting in one Croatian local radio station’s editor announcing to cease playing Cetinski’s songs in his’ radio program. The clash went as far as Cetinski planning to sue the editor . Furthermore, Gordan Lauc, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, firmly judged Cetinski and Lovren in an interview for one popular Croatian evening news show. He claimed that the pair is talking about dangerous things while exploiting their popularity.
Cetinski’s original Facebook livestream has attracted like-minded people and his social network activity increased significantly. As he gathers supporters, the problematic of social network bubbles rises. Following only those who offer the same view of the topic as one’s own means getting nothing but conformation of one’s opinion. No matter how important seeing all the sides of a topic is, Cetinski continues his campaign against vaccination on social media channels. The number of his Facebook followers increased rapidly, quadrupling from 3000 to over 12 000 in no time.
This raises the question of personal and social responsibility: if one is a public persona and knows that their voice will reach thousands, are they allowed to publish their thoughts on sensitive topics that are outside of their field of expertise? Cetinski is proving daily how certain in what he believes he is. After recognizing the backlash, he explained himself in a statement for the local online news outlet Glas Istre. He said that it was not his intention to cause a riot and that he was merely trying to have a conversation with his online friends. He admitted not being particularly skilful with Facebook, but he soon recognized the attention he was gaining. That only made him more wishful to prove his point.
Taking COVID-19 pandemic into the consideration, not only has it changed people’s outer lives with many restraints, but it has also affected their inner lives – now it is so easy to indulge into gloomy perspectives. People fear for their lives and their loved ones, and with that comes general mistrust in authorities. When a public person that seems so familiar, because of their long existence in the public eye, states their mistrust and strong opinions about a controversial topic, it becomes so much more than a personal thought.
With over 30 years of singing career, Cetinski has experience in the media and public relations. One may argue that amidst rapid media change Cetinski truly wasn’t aware of the impact he was making. However, it may seem in the beginning, two weeks in from the original livestream, he has wholeheartedly taken on a role of anti-vax advocate. As he tries to explain how he didn’t try to portray an expert and was just expressing his opinion, his initial reach to public was in an extremely certain and expert-like manner. That has only increased as his source material remain thoughts of his like-minders and vaguely verified scientific claims written in a language professional enough not to be clear to a non-expert.
Social media is by its nature a democratic vessel – it has given everyone a platform to raise their voice, but it does not matter how loud one is shouting, if they do not have an audience. Celebrities like Cetinski, with a numerous pre-made audience, have a certain social responsibility. This does not by any mean deprive them from sharing their thoughts, but it obliges them to dwell deeper into the topic and research it thoroughly before they go into further public discussion. That being said, that responsibility lies on all social media users. The only difference is that an anonymousness’ thoughts will not reach such a grand number of people in the public arena.
In conclusion, we asses that Cetinski’s claim was false. His raise of panic proved to be unnecessary – mandatory chipping is nowhere in the foreseeable future, let alone microchipping hidden in vaccines. This case also serves as cautionary tale of celebrities not utilizing rightfully the power of their voice in the public sphere.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE : Anamaria Hanzek & Gabrijela Greguric
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