Have you ever sat back and wondered who these people are in videos and why they’re so confident in their refusal to wear a mask? People being able to record misconduct is one of the reasons we’re so aware of Karens and police brutality, but what about the other people who are holding the camera? As you can see from this compilation, people are so confident that they’re right that they’re recording their arguments with others about why they won’t wear a mask.
Something I’ve been doing more and more is try to ask myself, “Why did this person post this?”. Why do we tweet out our opinions? Why do we showcase our outrage on Facebook? And why do some people record themselves refusing to wear a mask? While there are many reasons why we throw out these various social signals on social media, we’re going to focus on the aspects of validation and being part of an in-group.
Sharing a video of you yelling at someone while you refuse to wear a mask is sending out a signal. The underlying psychology is the hope for some sort of validation. Once they publish this video, they’re hoping people will say, “You did great taking a stand!”. But who would validate something like this during a global pandemic? Well, a specific population of people is actively trying to get one another to not wear a mask, and this is why conspiracy theories can potentially be dangerous.
While I can’t say for certain if any of the people in the clips I showed you are part of QAnon, they very well could be. If you don’t know what QAnon is, we don’t have time to get deep into all of the details in this piece, but here’s a top-level overview.
QAnon is a conspiracy group that Twitter recently had to take action against because of the fear that their actions could turn into real-life violence. QAnon is a far-right conspiracy group who believes that Trump is their savior, and he’s here to rescue us from a cabal who is involved in sex trafficking and the drinking of blood in their satanic rituals. Recently, in a BBC piece, people discussed how they’ve lost family members who fell into the QAnon rabbit hole.
For the last few years, QAnon has been focused on their sex trafficking conspiracies, but now that we’re in a pandemic, their focus has shifted. If you thought influencers having parties was bad because they’re being a bad example, influencers in the QAnon community are actively telling people not to wear their masks.
This is a channel called Destroying the Illusion. He’s a conspiracy theory YouTuber with over 235k followers. In June, when his state of Washington mandated masks, he made a video expressing his anger while telling his following to not wear masks.
While a lot of the focus has been on young influencers being bad examples, the psychology around influence is much weaker than the psychology of obedience. As someone giving his audience instructions to not giving masks, this QAnon channel is doing something far worse, and it’s putting many people at risk.
I wish I could say that videos like this get flooded with people saying how wrong they are, but that’s not the case. At the time of writing this, the video has over 35,000 views, but that’s not the worrisome part. When we look at the like to dislike ratio, that’s what we need to worry about.
In this piece, not only are we going debunk some of the QAnon COVID conspiracies, but we’re also going to discuss the psychological motivation behind channels like this. As critical thinkers, it’s important that we understand motivated reasoning. When our reasoning is motivated by being part of a community, it can skew our logic. But as with channels like this, money can be quite a motivator as well.
As you know by now, I’m quite the skeptic, and based on my history, I’d be the prime target for QAnon to sell me on the idea that COVID is a hoax cooked up by Big Pharma. Eight years ago, I almost died from a prescription opioid addiction, and in my recovery, I’ve spent a lot of time learning how Big Pharma helped create the opioid epidemic. So, if anyone is going to be skeptical about Big Pharma, it’s going to be me, and that’s what QAnon and other conspiracy theorists will try to sell you on. Fortunately, people like you and I practice critical thinking to see what’s really going on.
Humans are creatures that are fueled by incentives, so it’s a good critical thinking practice to always ask what someone’s motivation might be. For example, the United States is one of only two countries where it’s legal to do direct-to-consumer marketing of medications, so I hope you ask yourself the motives of the commercial when it tells you to ask your doctor about medications.
But more importantly, when we come across major claims such as COVID is a hoax and masks don’t keep you safe, we need to ask if the person telling us this has any incentives. Although there are many QAnon members pushing this narrative, we’ll be focusing on Destroying the Illusion because he’s one of the bigger creators with the most influence. His theory is that this is all a hoax to control us, so before we analyze his potential motivated reasoning, let’s start with the other side.
He argues that COVID is a hoax and the government is trying to control us. He sites fake research and fake science. His best theory is that this is a way for the government to control us, so what does that mean? As a critical thinker, I think it’s okay to hear an argument out, but we need to ask if it makes sense. What would the government have to gain by having us wear masks? How would that control benefit them in any way?
One could argue that they would start out with a small amount of control so they could control us more later, but this is using the slippery slope logical fallacy. There’s no evidence that having us wear masks would somehow lead to us being mindless zombies they can control in other aspects. And, conspiracy theories are also worried about facial recognition, so wouldn’t this be counter-productive? My iPhone won’t even unlock with my mask on, so making us wear masks would just make it more difficult for “Big Brother” to spy on us.
I have seen some QAnon people say that the masks help hide the identity of child traffickers, but which one is it? You either believe that the government wants to use facial recognition on us or they want to hide the faces of traffickers. It can’t be both.
Next, we can ask ourselves what motivated reasoning doctors would have to tell us to wear masks. One argument people from QAnon use is that people like Dr. Fauci have a vested interest based on some debunk information. But let’s say that hypothetically Dr. Fauci would somehow benefit financially from us wearing masks because maybe he has a massive amount of stocks in a mask-making company. What about all of the other doctors encouraging us to wear masks? How would this benefit them?
With a few keyword searches on YouTube, you can find plenty of videos showing how masks help slow the spread of the virus. So, QAnon would have to argue that not only does every doctor have some sort of vested interest in us wearing masks, but so would all of these people making videos about how masks work.
As you start to ask yourself common-sense questions about conspiracy theories, they start to crumble like a house of cards with the slightest breeze. But what about Destroying the Illusion? Does he have any reason to push the narrative about COVID being a hoax? Why would people like him do this if it could peoples’ lives at risk? While he may 100% believe in this conspiracy, some of the reasons he believes in it may be due to his own financial benefit. Unlike QAnon claims, we can actually trace the financial benefit back to QAnon members making these claims.
QAnon channels like Destroying the Illusion will tell their audience that their videos are being suppressed by the algorithm and don’t get monetized. This is a manipulation tactic to have people support them in other ways, which makes much more than YouTube monetization. As you can see from his Patreon, he has 674 members.
His tiers range from $3 up to $177. Even if we took a conservative estimate and assumed that each of the 674 members are signed up at the lowest tier, he’d be making roughly $2,000 a month. But, if we were a little more realistic and assumed that even 50 people are at the $17 tier, 5 people at the $37 tier, and just 1 person at the $177 tier, it’s over $3,000.
Right now, 10s of millions of people are unemployed in the United States, and millions may not be able to pay rent. Meanwhile, Destroying the Illusion is making a minimum of $2,000 a month from his supporters on Patreon. In a video last year from Some More News, they pointed out how many of these QAnon people sell merch or other items.
So, when your income is based around you being a source spreading conspiracy theories, what happens when presented with contradictory information? Even the most rational and moral person will be biased towards the information they receive when they’re affected by motivated reasoning.
They Don’t Want You Asking Questions
A common tactic conspiracy theorists use is that they sell their followers on the belief that they are the independent thinkers. As you saw in Destroying the Illusion’s video, he talks about how the ones wearing the masks aren’t the ones thinking for themselves. But when you put it under a microscope, you realize that groups like QAnon is reliant upon people that don’t ask enough questions.
As I mentioned before, I’m one of the most skeptical people when it comes to doctors, but I’ve had to learn how to ask the right questions. If we hope to be critical thinkers, we need to be curious and constantly have our wheels turning. I try my best not to be an alarmist, but when it comes to COVID, this is extremely serious due to how contagious it is, so we all need to stay vigilant about the information we’re receiving.
When I was watching this QAnon conspiracy video as this young man made claims of fake science and fake studies, I asked myself, “Who is he?”. Personally, I’m more than happy to concede that there are a lot of bad studies out there, but you just need to show me the evidence. In fact, I love reading books about bad science, and I talk about it quite a bit on my channel. I think it’s important that we question sensational studies that come out. And if you’re interested in learning more about this how to spot bad studies, I highly recommend two great books that came out this year, Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth and Calling BS: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World.
So, what’s different about the authors of these books calling out bad science compared to QAnon? These authors are credentialed scientists and college professors. In each book, they pick apart specific studies and explain why they’re flawed. Another great website is RetractionWatch.com where they share retracted studies. Meanwhile, as you saw from the QAnon video, he doesn’t cite any specific study.
Listen, I get it. COVID is scary, and most of us don’t know the ins and outs of medical science, which is why it’s so important that we practice critical thinking. QAnon is able to sell their conspiracies by giving seemingly simple answers to complex topics, but topics like this can put lives at risk. Personally, I try to educate myself as much as possible, which is why I recently binged Dr. Steven Novella’s audiobook The Skeptic’s Guide to Alternative Medicine.
Dr. Novella understands that some doctors out there aren’t great, and he gives some fantastic advice to stay skeptical while practicing critical thinking. Here are two tips he offers when confronted with what people like QAnon members say:
- What’s the medical community say?: Yes, it’s true that sometimes the medical community disagrees, but on many subjects, such as wearing a mask, there’s a vast consensus. While there are fringe doctors out there giving bad information about COVID, it’s important to research and see that the majority of doctors are in agreement.
- What else needs to be true?: This is the best question you can ask yourself if you think you might be hearing a conspiracy. What else would have to be true for COVID to be a hoax? Here’s a list of things that would also have to be true if COVID was a hoax:
•The infection rates and the death rates would have to be a lie.
•Thousands upon thousands of hospital staff members around the country would have to be incentivized to tell the same lie.
•Millions of people around the world would also have to lie.
•Most importantly, none of us would know anyone infected by COVID. Personally, I know multiple people who have contracted the virus.
As many of you know by now, I don’t mind what people believe as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. Unfortunately, QAnon is actively telling people not to wear masks, and in order to prove their loyalty to the group, they’re filming themselves not wearing masks. But remember, yelling at someone or insulting their intelligence isn’t going to help the situation. Try to understand why the other person believes what they believe. And through your conversation, they may discover that there are a lot of questions about QAnon that they never asked themselves, and that may help pull them out of the rabbit hole.
But if you’re ever confronted by someone trying to make these claims who has influence, feel free to pull an Anderson cooper.
If you need help with your mental health, I highly recommend the service I use, BetterHelp. They’re an affordable online therapy service, and by using this affiliate link, you help support The Rewired Soul.