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Do conspiracy theories ever truly die? - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.


This week, Dr Anthony Fauci, the former Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden during the COVID-19 pandemic, gave testimony in front of a Congressional subcommittee. The hearing was full of partisan talking points and heated exchanges; and Fauci fought against allegations that he was responsible for a ‘cover up’ about a lab leak of COVID. The accusations levied against Dr Fauci, and his subsequent testimony, had me casting my mind back to 'pandemic times', when medical misinformation was rife. In those days, Dr Fauci and his family became targets of online harassment which developed into physical threats, abuse, and death threats. This behaviour was fuelled by conspiracy theorists through to elected officials who were all sharing COVID related misinformation.

The hearing is a great example of the lifecycle of a conspiracy and how it can go from being seeded online to being part of an official transcript of a Congressional hearing. Nicole Malliotakis, a Representative from New York, attempted to catch Fauci in a ‘gotcha’ moment when she asked how much money he had made from royalties from COVID vaccinations and medications (a popular conspiracy theory used to target Fauci). His answer was $122 from a patent of an antibody he had developed 25 years ago. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (MTG), a representative from Georgia and well-known conspiracy-theorist, told Fauci he belonged in prison, refused to refer to him as a ‘doctor’, claimed he abused puppies and later took to X (formerly Twitter) to blame Fauci for the death threats he was receiving. Dr Fauci stated on CNN after the hearing that MTG’s claims and behaviour helped to drive the threats and harassment made against him and his family.

So, while medical misinformation might not take up as much time in my workday as it once did, I see its legacy on almost a daily basis, especially in the US. There is a tendency in this line of work to always be on the lookout for the next biggest threat and, while that is valid, we mustn’t forget how the past can still inform the present. As the US 2024 Presidential election campaign has already begun, it will be interesting to see if new threads of conspiracies will develop or if old conspiracies will be built upon, just packaged in a different way. 

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Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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