LOCAL NEWS

UW expert: False rumors about forced quarantine for unvaccinated were ‘strategically amplified’

Jan 18, 2022, 12:59 PM
Rumors camps...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Rumors spread like wildfire around the internet in early January, claiming that the state Board of Health was meeting to set up forced quarantine facilities for the unvaccinated. Protesters later flocked to the state Department of Health offices in Tumwater, despite the rumors proving to be false. But how did this whole affair come about in the first place?

UW professor, former Storm player on how lies are spread on social media

University of Washington’s Dr. Kate Starbird — an expert on misinformation and the co-founder of the Center for an Informed Public — spoke to CNN this week to describe the mechanics of a process she says is designed to instill fear and panic with claims that are then “strategically amplified.”

“I think people are afraid because they’ve been stirred up to be afraid, and these kinds of things can take root,” She detailed. “Then people — cable news hosts and others — are opportunistically amplifying these things to feed their financial models,” she detailed.

The claims related to the Washington State Board of Health were widely circulated around social media, and later received signal boosts from Republican Congressional candidates Joe Kent, Jesse Jensen, and Doug Basler, among others. But as it turns out, the Board of Health meeting in question wasn’t about COVID-19 at all. Rather, it was to discuss edits to outdated language in state laws originally written to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Coronavirus crisis has social media ‘ripe for spread of misinformation’

That’s part of what Starbird says has been a common tactic in past years.

“This is something we’ve seen over and over again, and we know that conspiracy theories and rumors are often built off of old building blocks,” she detailed, citing past unproven conspiracy theories about FEMA planning to use major disasters as an impetus to imprison people in camps.

“We’ve heard this idea that people would be rounded up and put there for any number of reasons,” she added.

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UW expert: False rumors about forced quarantine for unvaccinated were ‘strategically amplified’