Racist conspiracy theory of the Great Replacement in Canada
Timothy Caulfield has spent the pandemic battling science and lies.
The course of COVID-19 has seen more Canadians enter the realm of conspiracy theories and that has kept the misinformation expert busy.
So busy, he says, that he felt he didn’t really have time to delve into one particular conspiracy theory that was gaining traction: the racist lie that there’s a coordinated effort to replace white people by immigrants, in what is known as the Great Replacement theory.
But it’s becoming impossible to ignore, he says, following what he calls alarming numbers on how the theory is finding adherents in Canada.
He points to a climate in which communities of believers have become more entrenched online and in which more and more mainstream politicians seem determined to co-opt conspiracy theories for their ends.
“I’m concerned that a large percentage of these people will stay in these communities because they’ve become communities,” Caufield said. “I think it becomes a lot harder to change people’s minds once that happens.”
Research by Abacus Data asked 1,500 Canadians where they stand on conspiracy theories that have become popular during the pandemic.
He revealed that nearly 40% of those polled said they believed in the Great Replacement theory – the fiction linked to the massacre of 10 black Americans last month in Buffalo, NY. He also suggested that millions more have embraced pandemic conspiracy theories.
The numbers struck Caulfield, who has lived and breathed the world of misinformation for much of his career.
“I’ve been studying this for a long time. You see those numbers, the degree to which people are completely out of touch with reality… it almost breaks your heart,” he said.
More than half of survey respondents said official government statements are not to be trusted; 44% said they believed a secret cabal of elites controlled world events; and about 37%, or the extrapolated equivalent of about 11 million people, said they believe “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native Canadians with immigrants who agree with their political point of view.
In response to blatantly false theories such as “Bill Gates uses microchips to track people and affect their behavior”, 13% of respondents said they agreed. Another 21% said it was possible or they weren’t sure.
The data shows the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories in Canada, in which the pandemic has played a major role, Caulfield says.
“I think a lot of these polls reflect a normalization and almost an institutionalization of conspiracy theories,” Caulfield said. “They’ve gone from being on the fringes and believed by a fairly consistent percentage of the population throughout history, to now sort of bleeding into mainstream public discourse.”
Caulfield said it shows how more and more people are willing to embrace ideas that once seemed implausible.
“It’s not ‘I don’t trust the current Canadian government because I think they have too many ties to industry,'” Caulfield said. “These are pretty elaborate and outlandish conspiracy theories that aren’t even slightly plausible from a rational perspective.
“Despite that, you see a huge percentage of Canadians who are at least open to the idea that these conspiracy theories are true,” he added. “And it’s kind of terrifying.”
How did we come here?
It’s a confluence of factors, experts say. The pandemic has played a big role – more and more people are isolated and getting their information from sources like YouTube and fringe news websites. But social media platforms have also created communities that rally around these conspiracy theories for validation and acceptance, serving as a constant echo chamber.
Caulfield said there is plenty of evidence that shows a causal relationship between people getting their information from places like YouTube and a greater willingness to believe conspiracy theories.
He added that he thinks some political groups and individuals push lies, especially about global elites, because it is politically profitable.
Conspiracy theories are tied to contemporary rumors and legends, also known as urban legends, says John Bodner, professor of folklore at Memorial University and co-author of “COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories: QAnon, 5G, the New World Order and Other Viral”. Ideas.’
What drives rumours, legends and conspiracy theories is the concept of credibility and probability. At a time when the whole world is experiencing a paradigm shift, people are asking, “Why is my life more difficult? “Why don’t the politicians pay attention to me?” “How come no matter how I vote, nothing seems to change?”
Conspiracy theories offer a practical answer to these questions, similar to populism, Bodner said.
“Conspiracy theories are kind of like stories that help you think through your problems…it’s a way for them to solve real-world difficulties,” Bodner said.
The problem is that a real solution is rarely offered to these difficulties, he noted.
It’s not hard to make a far-fetched theory likely, Bodner said. For example, people generally accept the idea that corporations and politicians have more power than the average person. They also know that powerful groups and even governments have done horrible things to people throughout history.
So it doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to be convinced that these powerful groups and individuals are targeting you, especially in troubling times like during a global pandemic.
“You think about all these unethical things that people have done to people, and you’re like, ‘Well, that did occur.’ So that’s where the ‘probable’ emerges,” Bodner said.
“So when you hear of a powerful person doing harm, they stay there, in the little nest of the probable.”
Similar to populism, which provides simple solutions to complex problems, conspiracy theories tend to blame people’s challenges on an outside threat.
This is why the pandemic is associated with the rise and normalization of the Great Replacement theory, Bodner said.
“The structure of conspiracy theories is really scapegoating. They are based on identifying another outsourced that is threatening your group.
The “in the group” is your circle with which you identify and identify. During the pandemic, these groups have largely formed online.
The online echo chamber can make it difficult for people to withdraw from these beliefs as the world returns to normalcy, Caulfield said. One thing his research has shown is that once someone buys into one conspiracy theory, they’re likely to buy into them all.
“It’s really about that basket of beliefs,” Caulfield said.
These beliefs have become part of political branding and ideology and are promoted by individuals seen as credible. This is a major concern, he said, and another Canadian needs to pay attention.
“You have politicians in Canada making it look legit,” Caulfield said. “Are we going to see more hate crimes because of the legitimization of these conspiracy theories? I think that’s a perfectly legitimate concern.
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