If you want a glimpse of modern propaganda at work, you need look no further than the trends that grace the Twitter sidebar.
I started watching them more seriously a few months ago when some of the headlines about COVID-related issues sounded far more certain—or perhaps arrogant is the better word—than it seemed they plausibly should. It felt appropriate to do a bit of fact-checking. What follows are several of the clips I chronicled over these months, along with data demonstrating that, at best, these factual-sounding statements are half-truths or matters of opinion, if not outright propaganda.
Exhibit 1: Masks Prevent the Spread of COVID
True? Not necessarily. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials was released by PubMed.gov in November 2020. Researchers reported “moderate certainty evidence that wearing a mask probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of laboratory-confirmed influenza compared to not wearing a mask.” Furthermore, researchers failed to find clear differences in reduction of respiratory viral infection in health care workers who used N95 face masks or regular surgical masks.
Exhibit 2: Vaccines are Extremely Effective
Admittedly, this is a partial truth because, yes, trials have shown this. But the operative word there is “trials.” As former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson noted, these trials only lasted for a handful of weeks when the vaccine was at peak effectiveness.
But what happens when the vaccines get into the real world for longer periods of time? Information is still emerging, but things aren’t looking too hot. Through data from other countries which have vaccination plans a step ahead of those in the U.S., Berenson shows how the narrative that vaccines prevent severe disease and death is collapsing:
The number of people hospitalized with severe Covid in Israel has more than doubled since late June. And an Israeli government advisor acknowledged July 5 that more than half of serious Covid cases were occurring in ‘fully vaccinated’ people.
Data from England and Scotland show similar trends. In Scotland, hospitalizations have risen more than fivefold in the last several weeks. And more than half the people who died of Covid in the last week of June were fully vaccinated.
We’ve seen further evidence of this happening since Berenson wrote this in July, Colin Powell being a recent and high profile vaccinated person to die of COVID.
So yes, in a sense, this Twitter “trend” is true. But it is a partial truth that obscures the facts, leading to a false sense of security.
Exhibit 3: Masks Prevent the Spread of COVID
No, you did not just catch a typo. Believe it or not, this is the same message as seen in our first exhibit, only captured on a different day and time as the first.
Once again, are masks actually effective in preventing spread of COVID? Not so much. “We did not observe association between mask mandates or use and reduced COVID-19 spread in US states,” researchers Damian and Daniel Guerra concluded in a 2021 paper for the International Research Journal of Public Health.
Exhibit 4: Vaccines are Safe
Yes, this is indeed true—many scientists and public health experts do say that vaccines are safe for most people. The real question is whether the data backs up their words. Unfortunately for those who have trusted these experts and taken the vaccine, data is beginning to paint an alarming picture.
In Taiwan, it was reported several weeks ago that the number of deaths from COVID vaccines had exceeded the number of deaths from COVID itself for the first time, according to government health data. Furthermore, Nordic countries such as Sweden and Iceland have recently halted usage of the Moderna vaccine over concerns that it contributes to heart issues such as myocarditis and pericarditis.
Or consider the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) in the United States. At the end of August 2021 a team of nearly 20 doctors and scientists released several papers on Regulations.gov, one of which included the following chart showing the explosion in vaccine-related deaths since the introduction of the COVID vaccine at the end of 2020. The alarming thing about this is that these professionals “computed a 41X under-reporting factor” in VAERS, leading them to estimate that there are likely “over 150,000 excess deaths caused by the vaccine.”
When asked about this research by Reuters, the FDA claimed that the “paper failed to address ‘spontaneous adverse event reporting in the context of emergency use authorization (EUA).’” In other words, during pandemics like the one we are currently in, underreporting may not be as high as the researchers found it to be in the instances they cited in their paper because there is supposedly more caution about vaccine safety in emergencies like this one. The FDA did, however, suggest that even in such emergencies, large percentages of adverse reactions are missed.
Exhibit 5: Masks Prevent the Spread of COVID
Oh, hello again! Apparently we haven’t addressed this issue enough because here is the exact same message as our first and third exhibits, again captured on a completely different day. Let’s go to a February 2021 report from Europe’s equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control. “Evidence for the effectiveness of non-medical face masks [which many average citizens use] face shields/visors and respirators in the community is scarce and of very low certainty,” the report concludes, further noting that there may be some positive effects from using medical face masks, but that the jury is still out, and further study is needed.
As an aside, I recorded this same message and image two other times. However, I’ll spare you the repetition of more studies that undermine the efficacy of masks (but here is a list of some more evidence if you care to investigate).
“Propaganda assists in marketing new inventions,” Edward Bernays wrote in his 1928 book Propaganda. “Propaganda, by repeatedly interpreting new scientific ideas and inventions to the public, has made the public more receptive.” It would seem things haven’t changed in roughly the last 100 years, for the propagandists are still trying to push their latest inventions—all in the name of science—to a gullible public.
You’ve been forewarned. Now go do your own research before you automatically believe another trending headline about COVID—and for that matter, be wary on other subjects as well.