At the beginning of 2020, no individual, no government, really “knew” anything about Covid-19 or the long-term effects of the pandemic, it was all educated guesses at best. World leaders were making policy decisions based on incomplete information about something that no one really understood. The problem with this is that they were relaying all this information as fact. There was no transparency about their own lack of knowledge, it was all “well this is what the experts told us, so it must be true”. If you wanted to question their judgement, you were dubbed a conspiracy theorist. People were being made to feel crazy for questioning any of this narrative. Even I feel like a “conspiracy theorist” writing this. But that’s the issue. People feel like it’s something they can’t talk about.
Young people like me grew up in a world where we were told to be skeptical of the government. We learned in school all the shady shit that not only the leaders of our country, but the leaders of all countries had pulled throughout history. We learned about Canada’s genocide on aboriginals. We learned about the endless proxy wars backed by the US government. We learned about the USSR suppressing their own citizens in the cold war. We grew up being told not to blindly follow whatever those in power tell us, because they are not always doing the right thing. But then, all of a sudden, this changed during the pandemic. We were supposed to take every word from our leaders as objective fact, and you were a lunatic if you were even the slightest bit skeptical.
I wasn’t even one of those “conspiracy people”. I believed what the government was saying. I stayed inside, I lost out on my high school graduation, I couldn’t do shit for months. But I thought “well, if I just do what I’m told, we’ll get out the other side of this”. And I waited, and waited, and waited, and finally one day they announced on the news that the vaccine was ready. I thought “no way, I’m finally going to get my life back”. I was the first in my family to get my vaccine. I got my second shot as soon as I could. Because that’s what I was told, that we would need two shots, then everything could go back to normal. They kept touting this figure, 95% vaccine effectiveness after a second dose. And I fell for it. I got my shots, they took away the mask mandate that summer, and it finally felt like things were going back to normal.
Come fall, they reinstated mask mandates. They reinstated restrictions. I had just started going to the gym, and now the government wasn’t letting me continue that for “my own safety”. They were saying we would need more vaccine doses. And I felt fucking lied to. I did everything they said, all for them to shift the goalposts. The final nail in the coffin was getting Covid-19 after receiving my vaccines, despite that “95% effectiveness”. We did all this, and we were right back at square one.
Was I mad at the government for not magically solving the pandemic overnight? No. It was an impossible task for any government. I was mad at the complete misrepresentation of information. They told us it was “science”, when it was educated guesswork. They could have been transparent, they could have relayed what we did, and did not know about the vaccines. But no, they touted it as this miracle cure to get us out the other side. They wanted people to think we had a miracle cure, but this did grave damage. The government pushed their misinformation campaign to the point it created a never-before-seen divide amongst our population.
I had a relationship dissolve because my girlfriend at the time didn’t want to get vaccinated. She wasn’t a conspiracy nut, her reasoning was just “I don’t feel like I need it”. And she was treated like shit for this. She wasn’t let into establishments, friends stopped asking her to hang out. She wasn’t obnoxious about it either, she mostly kept these ideas to herself. I was led to believe that there was something wrong with her for not getting this experimental vaccine. I thought “well, if she does her part and gets the shots, we wouldn’t be in this mess, why is she being so selfish?”. All the hate campaigns against “the unvaccinated” contributed to this major falling out with my girlfriend. And guess what? She didn’t get the shots, I did, and we both ended up back in the same place when the country got locked down again. Nothing changed, it was no miracle cure, just an “oops, our bad” from the government.
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Mike Caulfield’s article, “Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?” goes into some ways that people can fact-check information online. In the end, a lot of credibility checks come down to how reliable this piece of media is deemed to be. Caulfield recommends checking sites like Snopes that are “historically good” at debunking hoaxes. He also stresses the importance of interpreting if the writing of an article can reveal any biases of the author. Let’s take a publication that is considered reliable: CNN. During the early days of the pandemic, some were speculating that Covid-19 could have originated from a lab. Now, if one were writing a paper in early 2020 and this idea came up, maybe they would go to see what CNN had to say about it:
Look at that! “Almost certainly not true” they say. Well, CNN is a very reliable, long-standing publication. Looking at the author of this article, she holds a degree in journalism, and worked for other publications such as TIME before she worked at CNN. It says in her bio that she has been covering the pandemic since the start. This is the type of research that Caulfield says you should be doing for your sources. All of this information would lead me to believe this information is trustworthy.
Wait, but what’s this? Some news just broke regarding CNN? I’m sure this couldn’t possibly affect their credibility…
Hmm, isn’t that strange? The former president of CNN was secretly telling the network not to push certain ideas he didn’t agree with. Since he has been outed, CNN is now reporting that there is a chance the lab leak theory is true:
That’s quite the leap from “almost certainly not true”.
This is the harm that the pandemic has done. Information has become politicized to the point that people are willing to sacrifice truth and integrity if it means playing to your side. People don’t want to publish information that could prove their opponents “right”, so they lie and misrepresent. Caulfield stresses consulting publications that are historically accurate, but we are now seeing that these are not even safe. Any publication can be manipulated, and it’s arguably more dangerous when it happens to the big players we already trust. Who are we supposed to trust now?
“Knowing” is becoming impossible. We are witnessing the death of objective truth. Reality becomes whatever is the most widely believed assumption. I, and many young people feel lost. We don’t know what to believe anymore. The pandemic has shown us that governments and media do not have our best interests in mind, it’s whatever benefits them the most. This has always been our assumption, but now we have witnessed the soul-crushing reality of a world that doesn’t care about us. Our generation is becoming increasingly in-tune that those in power operate on a different set of rules then us. They dictate what we are allowed to know, and they call us crazy for questioning otherwise.
I hate talking about the pandemic or anything political in nature, because that’s the fastest way for someone to put you into a box. I don’t want to be seen as one of those super anti-government “don’t tread on me” types, because I’m not, but the current state of our world makes me sick to my stomach.
Can any amount of digital literacy fix this? Can we even trust “fact checkers” anymore? I’d be lying to say I have the answer. I feel as lost as everyone else, so I guess I’ll just keep screaming into the void.