In a Vero Beach, Florida, supermarket, Susan Wiles rode her motorized cart through the produce aisle. In any year other than 2020 or 2021, this would have been a routine trip to the grocery store. But in 2020, Mrs. Wiles was missing an accessory that had become ubiquitous in society during that year: a face mask. Despite causing a commotion, Mrs. Wiles stood by her decision, claiming that the concerns about COVID-19 were overblown: “I don’t fall for this. It’s not what they say it is.” Mrs. Wiles’ statement is emblematic of the year 2020. This is not the era of truth, but of alternative facts, fake news, and disinformation.
For most Americans, the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) pandemic has dictated our lives for over two years. But the facts that different Americans adhere to have varied considerably. For example, in July 2020, Dr. Stella Immanuel claimed, “This virus has a cure. It is called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax, . . . I know you people want to talk about a mask. Hello? You don’t need [a] mask. There is a cure.” The “cure,” despite lacking any scientific support, was touted by President Donald J. Trump and others to counter medical recommendations for a lockdown. In other cases, individuals followed other “miracle” cures they found on the Internet, such as drinking bleach or concentrated alcohol, the latter of which led to an estimated 800 deaths and over 5,000 hospitalizations worldwide. Others, like Mrs. Wiles, believed rumors that COVID- 19 is merely an overblown hoax from which doctors and hospitals can profit. Public faith in COVID-19 vaccines is also being undermined through the widespread circulation of various fake conspiracy theories about the dangers of vaccines and government oversight.