QAnon and Anti-Vaxers brainwash kids trapped at home during pandemic

QAnon and Anti-Vaxers brainwash kids trapped at home during pandemic

Sarah Wilds, a seventh-grade teacher in Alabama, uses a tool called checkology to teach her students how to spot real news and misinformation.

Courtesy of Sarah Wildes

When Sarah Wilds, a seventh-grade teacher in Alabama, was asked by a student about the widespread confusion surrounding the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, she knew she had a big task ahead of her.

“I have to walk lightly, but I said we knew,” said Wilds, a science and technology teacher at Sparkman Middle School in Tony’s small town. “There are facts. There are committees that review elections. The numbers show us a truth, but social media bubbles confuse us about this truth. “

As the new school year begins, Wilds and teachers across the country face a formidable and emerging challenge and students are returning to the classroom after an almost 18-month hiatus from in-person learning as usual. Since the last time full classrooms were assembled, an entire industry of disinformation has exploded online, from the alleged presidential theft to the proliferation of microchips in COVID-19 vaccines that Joe Biden won. Spread the conspiracy theories about it.

It’s bad enough that kids are exposed to dangerous untruths on their favorite social media apps like Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. Equally important is that while they were stranded at home during the pandemic, their virtual school days were interrupted by screams from the parents of many students, who themselves fell down the rabbit hole on the day. deeper in the Internet.

According to a report released in May by nonprofit groups Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Corps, about 15% of Americans believe in QAnon conspiracy theories. QAnon believers were largely responsible for spreading “Stop the Steel” content on social media, supporting the lie that former President Donald Trump won the election.

Meanwhile, 22% of Americans identify as anti-vaccines, according to a university study released in May, even as scientists and public health officials agree on the overwhelming effectiveness and importance of vaccines. COVID-19. Eh.

For children who have yet to fully develop critical thinking skills, basic truths are distorted by a combination of social media misinformation and a growing population of deceitful and radical parents.

“They were consuming this information at home, not being able to really get out of their own bubble,” Wilds said. “They were hungry for advice on how to navigate anything they saw.”

In addition to tackling the standard curriculum and trying to make up for lost time in class, Wilds takes responsibility for helping students filter out misinformation and find reliable media. It builds on the News Literacy Project (NLP), a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, which last year developed Checkology, an online tool for educators to help students identify and overcome disinformation.

Chekology teaches students the different types of disinformation they encounter, the role of the press in a democracy, understanding bias in news, and recognizing how people fall into conspiracies. Since its launch in May 2016, Checkology has registered more than 1.3 million students and approximately 36,300 teachers.

“Pandemics, elections, social justice issues – people are looking for information and teachers need help navigating this misinformation,” said Shailene Farnsworth, NLP Teacher Network Expansion Director.

Find a Reddit community

Other online communities provide ways for children of conspiracy theorists to connect and share their experiences. And to detoxify too.

Mobius, 17, who lives on the west coast, said his mother was an anti-vaxxer who started the path to QAnon. Moebius, who has asked us not to use his real name to maintain our family ties, said his mother talks about the coronavirus as biological warfare and believes the government is trying to take advantage of the vaccines. try. He said 90% of his information comes from Facebook or TikTok.

In July, most of Mobius’ family became infected with Covid-19 after his mother contracted the virus and did not go into quarantine. Moebius said that even when ill, she traveled by plane, adding that she was the only person in the family to be vaccinated and to avoid infection.

He said his mother would not allow his siblings to get vaccinated and that he missed many vaccines as a child.

Mobius posted an article about his experience at QAnonCasualties, a Reddit group that he says provides “support, resources and a place to let off steam” to those with friends or relatives “taken by QAnon.” was formed in July 2019 and has 186,000 members and is full of stories similar to the Möbius experience.

A woman wearing a pin during a protest against the mandatory coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine outside New York City Hall on August 16, 2021 in New York City.

Jinah Moon | Reuters

Last month, a user post from a college student spoke of the anxiety she felt after her father showed her a video claiming the Covid vaccine would make her infertile. Another recent post came from a 16-year-old girl who claims she recently ‘escaped’ her abusive QAnon parents and is unsure whether she should get the COVID shot.

“I don’t know if it’s real now or not,” she wrote on the Reddit forum. “I am scared and confused. My parents told me I would have blood clots, die, die within five years, be sterile, microchipped, government monitored, government monitored.

QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory movement that emerged after the 2016 election. Although the message is not convincing, members often claim that the world is controlled by a group of satanic and cannibalistic elites who conspired against former President Trump.

Moebius, who had just entered college and had to be vaccinated to attend, said that by the time Trump took office he began to question his family’s views. He became more active in finding facts, turning to sources of information instead of listening to his mother. It has landed on the Associated Press and the BBC as its most trusted media.

Still, Möbius said he tries to avoid talking about anything political at a distance with the maternal side of the family. He said his mother had improved to avoid conspiracies since she fell ill, although her beliefs had not changed.

On QAnonCasualties, divorcees mourn the loss of decades-old relationships, activists talk about quitting their jobs because of a supervisor’s anti-vaccine rant, and teens and young adults desperately talk about their parents.

Fears of “vaccine poisoning”

Another member of the Reddit group, believed to be called Vulture, sat on the board in early August seeking support and guidance in dealing with his mother.

Vulture, who is 18 and was only comfortable with a pseudonym, described her mother as an anti-vaxxer who began plunging into the QAnon plot in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

She said her mother thought 5G cell phone towers were harmful (a QAnon theory says 5G causes coronavirus), and she doesn’t allow her children to have WiFi at night because she is exposed radiation. worry. Vulture said her mother got her information from Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, and even personal groups.

Vulture’s parents have divorced and his mother is now married to another woman. His mother’s wife received the vaccines earlier this year, which led to a breakdown in the relationship as Vulture’s mother feared she had ‘vaccine poisoning’ and told her wife she wouldn’t. loved more unconditionally.

Vulture said her mother also threatened to kick her and her younger brother out of the house if they were vaccinated, a threat that weighs heavily on her, especially as she prepares for her first year at university.

Jake A., 33, aka Yellowstone Wolf, of Phoenix, draped in a QAnon flag, addresses supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump as they continue to vote after the November 5 U.S. presidential election in Phoenix, Arizona , because they are protesting in front of the Maricopa County Elections Department. , 2020.

Olivier Touran | AFP | Getty Images

As teens like Mobius and Vulture find like-minded people online, groups like the Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab (PERIL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are trying to protect children from fraud and fraud. propaganda.

Last year, PERIL and SPLC released “A Parents and Caregivers Guide to Online Youth Radicalization” to help adults deal with teens at risk of being exposed to extremism and conspiracy theories .

“Fundamentalism is a problem for our entire society, from the innocent victims to the severing of family ties,” the guide explains. This includes sections on how to recognize warning signs, understand how to get people into extremism, and how caregivers can connect with at-risk youth.

PERIL and SPLC have also completed the Guide for Educators, Counselors, Trainers and Mentors.

Sarah Wilds, a seventh-grade teacher in Alabama, uses a tool called checkology to teach her students how to spot real news and misinformation.

Courtesy of Sarah Wildes

Wilds, a teacher at an Alabama school, sees an important role for the classroom and technology such as chekology in fighting the spread of disinformation.

“Once people start going down the rabbit hole, it’s hard to get them out,” she said.

Wilds said Chekology is not dogmatic in its approach. Through interactive lessons, the program is designed to give children the tools to discover what cheats and what is supported by evidence. NLP also operates a weekly newspaper, The Sift, which aims to help educators teach students information literacy and understand why a hoax or a spreading conspiracy theory is bogus.

Wilds said, based on the behavior he observed, that he believes many college kids today are better than adults at dismissing misinformation.

“I think they really like to speak in a way that makes them responsible for their thoughts,” she said.

To concern: Former Facebook privacy chief fights vaccine misinformation

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