A new magazine campaigning against Covid vaccinations that has been letterbox-dropped in Auckland could signal not only a drive to reach new audiences but an increased push to profit from misinformation, experts say.
The Real News has recently shown up in Mt Eden letterboxes, with its first edition featuring a special edition story called, The Truth About the Covid-19 Pandemic & Vaccines That We’re Not Being Told.
The 48-page magazine also contained ideas widely considered conspiracy theories about how a cabal of elites wanted to inject people with DNA altering substances to better control the world’s population.
Dr Andrew Chen – a researcher at University of Auckland-based Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures – said what appeared different about the pamphlet’s “misinformation” was not its content but it’s presentation and financing.
He said the magazine’s print layout could help it appear more authoritative to some readers more distrustful of social media.
“And if they are dropping in letterboxes, it is likely a relatively well-resourced effort,” he said.
“What we normally see with a lot of online misinformation is that it only exists online because it is the easiest way for them to scale and get it out to a lot of people very quickly.”
The release of the publication comes as New Zealand embarks on a national vaccination campaign aimed at saving lives by stemming the spread of Covid-19 and helping return life to normal.
One Mt Eden resident on Grange Rd, who received The Real News in his letterbox this week, told the Herald he was annoyed at its “destructive misinformation” undermining health messages from experts.
“I read enough of it to just feel like it was absolute rubbish, and at a time when there is a pandemic going on, they are putting people’s lives at risk by spreading misinformation like that,” he said.
However, he said the pamphlet looked like “quite a bit of money and effort had gone into producing it”.
“It’s substantial, it’s illustrated and laid out in a way that is easy to read,” he said.
The Real News’ website said it had been funded by donations.
It thanked the leadership of the Advance NZ political party headed by Jami-Lee Ross for inviting the party’s members to contribute to the magazine’s launch.
However, The Real News also said on its website that its editors were not members of Advance NZ.
Company the Full Court Press was listed on the site, and it had connections to other websites publishing a wide range of theories.
Dr M R X Dentith, a teaching fellow at the University of Waikato, noted the magazine was free on the website but had a $5 price listed.
Those wanting to distribute the magazine could also buy 100 copies for $1 each, with the website claiming they could then potentially make a $4 per copy profit by onselling them.
The University of Auckland’s Chen, meanwhile, said one of the ways to combat misinformation was not to tell people what was right and wrong but instead give them more tools to help make up their own minds.
“If they are aware they may be approached with what looks like a very convincing pamphlet – they can be on more alert,” he said.
“They might think, ‘Maybe I’ll be a little bit more careful with whether I accept that information just because it’s presented to me.”
The new pamphlet also comes as the Government has said it has deployed an army of social media moderators ready to pounce on vaccine misinformation spread online and quickly counter it with facts.
And that vaccination campaign wouldn’t aim to convert the “hardcore” 10 per cent of Kiwis likely to outright refuse to get jabbed, but instead focus on convincing the “vaccine hesitant”.
According to a survey commissioned by Auckland University, 69 per cent of Kiwis were willing to get a “well-tested and approved” Covid-19 vaccine.
Professor Chris Bullen, deputy head at the university’s School of Population Health, said the research found about 10 per cent of the population would say “absolutely not” to the vaccine and may be “very hard to persuade”.
“I don’t think that 10 per cent should be seen as a lost cause, but we do have sort of low-hanging fruit in the 15 to 20 per cent that will be much easier to reach out to,” he said.
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