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The Delta disinformation deluge – In the News

The Delta outbreak also led to an outbreak of disinformation in New Zealand, according to a new report.

The Te Pūnaha Matatini working paper was released on Tuesday – the morning of a major anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown protest at the Beehive. Earlier, the Science Media Centre hosted a briefing with report author and Disinformation Project researcher Kate Hannah, researcher and indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata, and clinical psychologist Sarb Johal.

The study found a sharp increase of popularity and intensity of Covid-19 specific disinformation since the country went into Alert Level 4 lockdown in August.

The Disinformation Project lead researcher Kate Hannah said terms like Nazism were being thrown around in a carefree manner.

“We’ve really witnessed a downgrading of social discourse – so an acceptability of really vulgar, obscene, denigrating, rude, misogynistic, racist terminology just being used.”

The report also found Māori motifs and symbols – like the term hīkoi, and the United Tribes flag – have been used by pākehā disinformation spreaders. Researcher and indigenous rights advocate Tina Ngata said overseas narratives were being directly imported from white supremacist campaigns in the United States.

“They utilise that to infiltrate and leverage off the national movements and we see that happening here. The devastating consequences are that the people who worked on and led these movements for generations are becoming targeted.”

The majority of Māori became eligible for vaccines on September 1, which Ngata said is when the anti-vaccination movement started to really co-opt overseas narratives.

Clinical psychologist Dr Sarb Johal said the extreme nature of the disinformation can appeal to people bored with lockdown life, particularly if they’re prone to “sensation-seeking” behaviour.

“That combination of monotony and vulnerability and uncertainty about what’s going to happen next… we can see that this is something that is ripe for exploitation.”

“People find conspiracy narratives entertaining… it’s unusual, it’s somehow perverse, but it’s attention-grabbing. These entertainment perceptions cause people to linger on them, perhaps share them.”

Here are some highlights of coverage of the report and briefing:

Covid-19 pandemic driving a ‘downgrading of social discourse’, researcher says – RNZ
Disinformation in Aotearoa has escalated since Delta outbreak – Stuff
‘100-fold increase’ in Kiwis following disinformation groups online – study – Newshub
Vulnerable groups targeted by malicious misinformationMidday Report on RNZ
A disinformation researcher on all the Nazi signs at the Wellington anti-vax protest – Re: News
After the protest came the big defeat – Politik
‘Sharp increase’ in online disinformation since delta outbreak began – The Spinoff
Researcher: Covid conspiracy theories spreading at significant speedMike Hosking Breakfast on Newstalk ZB
Māori symbols being used by non-Māori Covid dis-information spreaders – 1News
NZ’s disinformation surgeThe Bulletin on The Spinoff