Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, conspiracy theorists have discovered yet another way to spread harmful miscommunication and disinformation on COVID-19. As a result, people doubt the severity and even the existence of the pandemic.
If you think this is outrageous, then the story of US Army Sergeant Ms. Maatje Benassi will surely shock you.
“It’s like waking up from a nasty dream and going into a nightmare day after day,” Ms. Maatje Benassi said.
U.S Military reservist Maatje Benassi has had her life turned upside down by a conspiracy theory that falsely claims that she is Corona Virus patient zero. To make the matter worse, Chinese media has spread this conspiracy leading to her home address being posted online and even receiving death threats.
We often hear about the dangers of online conspiracy theories but imagine becoming the target of one. Ms. Maatje Benassi and her family are now the targets of a conspiracy theory fueled by George Webb.
George Webb is a famous conspiracy theorist who has nearly 100k subscribers on YouTube. George Webb claims that Maatje Tested positive for COVID-19 while working at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, a claim that Maatje completely denies. He falsely claims with no evidence that Ms. Maatje Benassi brought the virus to china during a cycling competition.
Ms. Maatje was part of the military cycling team that took part in the CISM World Military Competition in Wuhan, China, last year. This is the link that’s being used by the Chinese communist party to fuel their accusations that the Coronavirus began in the US and was released in Wuhan, China by the US Army.
6 months later, the comments under Webb YouTube video about the Benassi has become the stuff of nightmares. Some comments read “Execute them by fire”, “We need to kill these people”, “These people will get a bullet to the skull” and many more.
The conspiracy theory is not only spreading in America but also in China, where Webb has featured in media controlled by the Chinese communist party. His videos have also been posted to Chinese platforms such as WeChat, Xigua Video, and Weibo.
Because of persistent complaints by Mr. Benassi to YouTube, some of Mr. Webb’s videos have been removed but not all of them. According to Mr. Benassi, law enforcement can’t take any action because the comments are not direct threats. The Benassi’s find the whole situation expensive to litigate because they can’t get any recourse from law enforcement and the courts.
While the allegations about the Benassi’s might be very far from the truth, the threats they face and the fears they feel is very real. They have tried to keep track of these false videos online, but it has been very overwhelming.
This is one of the many conspiracy theories about COVID-19 out there. When these corrosive theories are combined with politics and nation-states that are willing to manipulate them, it imperils the response to the pandemic and could be more fatal in more ways than one.
This begs the questions.
Why do conspiracy theories have so much influence in a world that has over 60% of its total population is educated?
Why are people so easy to judge without examining the facts?
How can we limit the spread of misinformation?
Conspiracy theorists with their mysterious sources think they can connect the missing dot; they can see the missing links. No! They can’t, it’s all nonsense and their bogus claims shouldn’t sway us.