What I Learnt From Meeting A Real-Life Anti-Vaxxer

Conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, ignorami. Call them whatever you want.

For most of us, we exist inside our socio-political bubbles, with limited exposure to those with views opposing our own. The internet version of this phenomenon is known as a ‘filter bubble’ — a situation in which the user only encounters information and opinions that reinforce their own beliefs, caused by Internet algorithms that personalise one’s online experience.

This is particularly rampant on social media. Think about it, your online social networks are predominantly made up of your friends, colleagues, people you know. You’ve likely befriended these people due to common interests or beliefs.

So day-to-day, whilst you will definitely come across differing opinions on news, current affairs and politics online, you’re able to roll your eyes and disagree from a distance, from the safety and comfort of a screen. You have the ability to close the tab and never give that person’s opinion a second thought — unless you want to engage with the keyboard warriors in the comments section. 

When you come across someone with wildly opposing views in real life,  those views wash over you like you’re being dumped in the surf. It can be pretty confronting, given that you can’t simply walk away or block your ears. 

Earlier this year, I somehow got roped into a conversation rant from an older gentleman (that’s being polite, moron would’ve been more like it). And no, I almost never talk to strangers, so I will have to preface how I got into this situation.

I was on a weekend trip up the mid-north coast, in a town called Urunga. 

We were on a final walk, the Urunga Boardwalk to be specific, and we came across a very cute dog.  Anyway, when the man caught up to his dog, being polite, we all said hello. (Did he use his dog as bait to entrap tourists? Possibly…)

He started making small talk, asking if we were locals, the usual. The conversation then somehow sharply swerved into ‘this COVID stuff’, with him first pointedly asking, “You girls don’t actually believe in all this, do you?”

One of our group, who works in a hospital, had to ask for clarification. “What, do you mean COVID-19, the global pandemic?”

“Yeah. You don’t actually believe this ‘bullshit’ the government’s telling you, do you?”

To sum up a very nonsensical spiel, although he didn’t end up telling us the earth was flat, he did argue that immunisations had made his daughter infertile; the summer bushfires were just a freak accident from not enough backburning preparation; that climate change had been made up by The Greens to favour votes; that face masks were ‘muzzles’ being forced upon us by the government; and that Vernon Coleman, a prolific conspiracy theorist, is the only authority we should be listening to.

When I relayed the story of this encounter (my blood pressure still rather high) to my friends, one of them rhetorically asked me if he was wearing a tin hat. Ha. 

We all know to avoid the public preachers and conspiracy theorists, who tell us that things we know to be fact aren’t true. But it’s really quite difficult to be a young female and walk away from a conversation with a male stranger without worrying whether you’re going to be chased, stalked or (verbally) abused. 

Not only did it get my blood boiling, the whole encounter really got me thinking about the types of people who exist in our society with such disparate, polarising views. 

With the recent unveiling of the climate clock, it’s pretty bloody clear that climate change is happening. So how come so many people still believe it’s not the case?

The aforementioned Internet filter bubbles extend to real life, in the people we associate with, but it’s not just individual beliefs that are responsible.

Large corporations and our reliance upon them have been shown to propagate false ideologies in order to create a worldview for their users, in order to gain control over us, and therefore make more profit from keeping us engaged in their technologies.

Tech giants like Facebook and Google are leading us to believe certain things (such as climate change being real or fake) by creating this “personalised” worldview for us, based on our digital connections and content preferences. 

As the algorithms are designed to keep us engaged for as long as possible, in order to show us as many advertisements as possible to generate revenue, we are also fed (distorted) information, depending on what content we click on. 

Whilst it can be super frustrating to try and see the other side of this disinformation rabbit hole, it’s important to know that often conspiracy theorists are not shown the same information due to these constructed online worldviews.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I met a real-life conspiracy theorist, and it was fucked up. I will now happily return to my filter bubble.

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