COVID hate speech
COVID hate speech: Countries are yet to enforce an increasingly necessary ban on this propaganda Image Credit: Ador Bustamante/Gulf News

Robert Schmitt is a popular host on Newsmax TV, an influential news channel in the conservative circles in the United States. His show last week was dedicated to the COVID-19 vaccines, in light of the current spike in infection cases in the US and around the world.

Schmitt is known along a good number of his colleagues at the network for their rants propagating conspiracy theories, which have reached its peak during last year’s presidential elections when the channel adopted and fed into Donald Trump's wild accusations of massive poll fraud.

But last week Schmitt topped himself. He displayed an absolute level of lunacy, saying on his show that he didn’t mind if part of humanity was “wiped out” by the coronavirus pandemic. That would be part of natural selection, ala Darwin, he argued.

He started by declaring that he was not a doctor - and we thank God for that - then he rolled on: “I’ve always thought about vaccines, and I feel like a vaccination is in a weird way… just generally against nature. If there is some disease out there; maybe there’s just an ebb and flow to life where something is supposed to wipe out a certain amount of people, and that’s just the kind of the way evolution goes. [And] vaccines kind of stand in the way of that.”

His comments on live TV sparked a great deal of controversy, mostly against his wild rant that forced the channel to issue a statement that it “strongly supports President Biden’s efforts to widely distribute the COVID vaccine.”

A dispiriting setback

In the recent few weeks, COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen sharply globally in what the World Health Organisation (WHO) called as “a dispiriting setback” to our collective hopes of a restriction: free summer. According to WHO numbers, COVID deaths spiked in the second week of July after nine straight weeks of decline.

The organisation reported more than 55,000 deaths worldwide, a 3 percent increase from the week before. At the same period, infection cases increased by 10 percent to nearly 3 million- the highest numbers recorded in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Britain.

The setback is due to the decisions of many countries to ease the restrictions such as facemask wearing and allowing large gatherings such as during the Euro Cup football tournament.

And of course, all that is being magnified by the rapid spread of the more contagious and deadlier Delta variant, which WHO said has now been “identified in 111 countries and is expected to become globally dominant in the coming months.”

The main reason behind the recent spike though according to WHO is “the low rate of vaccination.” Not enough people have taken the jab.

Despite these painful facts, we see more and more fanatics like Schmitt who continue to use the social media to spread these bizarre anti-vaccine theories.

Necessary ban on propaganda

Countries are yet to enforce an increasingly necessary ban on this propaganda, which is in fact a type of hate speech. On the contrary, this new hate speech, which is literally killing people, is being endorsed and propagated by mainstream politicians and public figures!

In Australia, a popular conservative politician, Senator Malcolm Roberts has been waging a months-long war on his official Facebook and Twitter pages on the vaccines - from highlighting fake side-effects of the vaccines to calling for popular protests against mandatory vaccination.

His campaign and others led to several large protests against the vaccination programme a couple of months ago, with protesters carrying placards that read “my body, my choice,” and “we don’t need no vaccination, we don’t need no crowd control”.

In the past few days, similar protests, fuelled by anti-vaccine propaganda and misinformation on social media, were held in Greece and France.

In some parts of the Arab world, similar social media propaganda, some of which have found their way to national televisions can be seen in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan among other places.

In Kuwait earlier this month, hundreds protested in the capital city against the vaccine, with speaker after speaker repeating the same wild lies they must have read on social media.

“They’re killing people,” US President Joe Biden rightly said on Friday when a reporter asked him about the role of social media platforms such as Facebook in allowing the spread of propaganda and misinformation about the vaccine and the coronavirus. I think he was referring to the falsehoods and conspiracy theories.

But these are being facilitated by the greedy tech giants, which have raked in billions of ad revenues since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.

The White House said it has been putting pressure on those social media companies to address the misinformation problem. Obviously, both sides are not doing enough. I see more and more of those anti- vaccine videos every day.

We are in the middle of an existential battle against a deadly enemy that knows no boundaries. By discouraging people not to prepare themselves to the inevitable infection is in many ways similar to directly calling for mass murder.

With more than 4 million deaths, the anti-vaccine campaigns waged by many influential personalities on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is nothing but hate speech. And should be treated by countries around the world as such.