As the Biden administration approaches its 100th day in office, QAnon and other far-right groups have targeted vaccines to promote their anti-government agenda.
As often is, it's up to young people to resist the spread of misinformation online while holding public officials accountable for an equitable public health response.
On a March 22nd press release, the Biden administration announced that 2.5 million vaccines were being distributed every day. Officially, one-third of adults in the US received at least one shot, with the White House seeking vaccine access for all adults by May 1st. The administration is also pushing to open up schools through state and local teacher vaccinations, as well as $10 billion in federal funds for testing. (White House, Briefing Room)
The successful inauguration of the Biden-Harris administration in January threw QAnon, a loosely bound conspiracy theory centered around the followers of a ‘government insider’ called Q, into disarray.
To conserve the conspiracy, part of which targets the November election as have many right-wing groups, some QAnon followers unsuccessfully promoted March 4th as a ‘day of reckoning’ where former President Trump would return to power.
Ultimately, QAnon influencers are strategizing, sometimes against the “fringes of the fringes”, to move the conspiracy further into mainstream American politics. (BBC News)
QAnon and other conspiracy theories originated and persist on social media, including mainstream platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and, with increased censorship, on less moderated platforms such as Telegram.
Encrypted chat groups bearing QAnon titles each have tens to hundreds of thousands of viewers on Telegram.
Often, these chats blend pro-Trump and "anti-vaxxer" messaging, disparaging the vaccine as a dangerous biological weapon used by the same “corrupt” officials who were to be exposed on January 20th and March 4th.
The New York Contagion Research Institute claims that these isolated yet potent chat rooms are very difficult to monitor and can fuel anti-government sentiment on the right. This could dismantle trust in vaccine efforts, prolong the pandemic, weaken the credibility of the federal government, and lead to further conspiracy in a costly spiral. (Washington Post)
Vaccine Hesitancy vs. Opposition
The activities of QAnon and other right-wing groups online reflect cult behavior in their irrational rejection of the vaccine. However, research suggests that further alienation of these groups as irreconcilable and malicious will add fuel to the fire. We saw this with mainstream social media platforms which tried to limit misinformation, giving rise to less moderated platforms such as Telegram.
Still, there is a key distinction between anti-vaccination sentiment, opposition to the vaccine due to political or religious ties, and vaccine hesitancy among marginalized groups, which has taken root in low-income and BIPOC communities that have suffered the greatest loss of life and opportunity yet received the least government support. These disparities exist both in the immediate response to COVID and the vaccination effort itself. (The Lancet)
Moderate Democrats tend to decry the anti-government politics of their right-wing peers and their base while neglecting the need for further government assistance to the most marginalized communities who oftentimes have nothing to do with these conspiracies.
The narrative of the “white working-class” has been offered as an explanation for anti-vaccination - yet it's mostly BIPOC who fill the essential services that keep the economy afloat during the pandemic, and who will suffer the most if efforts to discredit vaccination efforts prevail.
If Democrats are going to brand themselves as the party of public health, they need to a.) promote a critical, methodical understanding of the dangers of conspiracy theories and b.) address the needs of marginalized communities suffering from the pandemic.
The only way we can force the government to address this pandemic in a depoliticized, structurally redemptive way is to build awareness and public pressure for our elected officials. This is and always will be our goal at Alect Political. So what are you waiting for? Like, comment, share and follow to get the youth perspective on today’s America.