Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

There’s probably a German word for it, this pleasure we get at seeing the idiots of the interwebs, those sadly deluded people who get their kicks telling us not to trust scientists or the media, get their coronavirus comeuppance. Schadencovid, perhaps?

Take the antivaxxers, for instance, those proudly independent people who refuse to introduce poison into their children’s sacred bloodstream because they can’t spell the words on the ingredient list. It’s so difficult not to laugh quietly into your elbow when you think about the choice they’re going to have to make when a coronavirus vaccine arrives.

These are the same people who prefer to believe one discredited paper linking autism to vaccines to the countless scientific papers that show the opposite.

Then there are the broniacs, as I like to call the edgelords of social media who think they’re smarter than everyone else. These bros are named after Brainiac, a low-level supervillain who appears in DC Comics, most notably as the enemy of Superman. Brainiac’s main power is his 12th-level intellect (normal earthlings like you and I are only sixth-level) — which, like our latter-day broniacs, makes him much cleverer than anyone else.

Raised on a diet of Ayn Rand, graphic novels and unearned gold stars from teachers trying to stop them whining, our broniacs really do think they’re cleverer than scientists and accredited experts.

Their classic hunting ground is climate change, where they really do know better than everyone else (I live by the beach! I’m not drowning!). But they’ve embraced the happy hunting ground of the coronavirus pandemic, where it’s even easier to disprove science anecdotally using the medium of misinformation.

The poster idiot for this is Bill Mitchell, an American talk show host, who tweeted: "Trust me, #Covid-19 is the new climate change. Have you even heard from Greta [Thunberg, the climate activist] since this all began?"

He also thinks that viruses are like terrorists. "We cannot shut down our society and economy over a virus — no matter what it is. It is like paying ransom to terrorists — you simply cannot do it because then the terrorists need only threaten you and they control you completely."

It's so difficult not to laugh quietly into your elbow when you think about the choice the antivaxxers are going to have to make when a coronavirus vaccine arrives

The broniacs love to flaunt their pallid intellects by pretending they’re the only ones clever enough to spot that governments are just trying to get you to panic when they tell you that you need to stay inside. They’ll share jokes about how Covid-19 hangs around outside bars waiting for 5pm, or hot takes on how flu kills way more people than the coronavirus.

Talk show host Mitchell again: "I do not understand how our hospitals can handle 670,000 flu cases every year, but a few thousand Covid-19 cases overwhelm the system. We have been dealing with massive flu outbreaks for decades. To me this is all part of the hype."

One person kindly pointed out the error in his "thinking" for him. "How can McDonald’s sell billions of burgers every year, but when I pull up and ask for only a hundred thousand they freak out? Fake news, I tell you what."

One can’t help feeling a touch of schadencovid at this headline in British tabloid The Sun: "‘NOT A BRAIN CELL’ Fury as Brits STILL Ignore Calls to Stay Out of Pubs During Coronavirus Crisis."

That one of the newspapers most responsible for training people to distrust experts should now be shocked that people don’t listen to government experts is pretty funny. It would be funnier if the fruit of The Sun’s misinformation didn’t include killing innocent people.

The UK government’s ire at the same thing is also a kind of poetic random justice, given Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cavalier attitude to facts.

Then there are the Americans, currently feeling the deleterious effects of Fox News’s exposé of "the real story" of the coronavirus, which it contends was a media and Democratic Party plot against President Donald Trump.

Fox has consistently minimised the dangers of the pandemic to its largely elderly audience — the main potential victims of the virus.

There’s a history of foolish people thinking they’re immune to death, of course. That great diarist of London’s Great Plague of 1665-1666, Samuel Pepys, described the 17th-century version of our idiots who insist on holding weddings and church services. "The taverns are fair full of gadabouts making merry this eve. And though I may press my face against the window like an urchin at a confectioner’s, I am tempted not by the sweetmeats within. A dram in exchange for the pox is an ill bargain indeed."

Funnily enough, the new delivery protocols implemented by our supermarkets echo those of 17th-century suppliers of food. According to Wikipedia, "the villages around London, denied of their usual sales in the capital, left vegetables in specified market areas, negotiated their sale by shouting, and collected their payment after the money had been left submerged in a bucket of water to ‘disinfect’ the coins".

Unfortunately, we can’t just wait for the selfish know-it-alls to qualify for entrance into the Darwins, those awards that recognise people who have contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death by stupidity.

As has been pointed out repeatedly, for us to flatten the curve on exponential growth we all have to practise social distancing. The many selfish people who have decided that this doesn’t apply to them are putting us all in danger.

But we can still experience some moments of joy when individuals get their comeuppance. News organisations are starting to realise that the false objectivity of giving climate denialists and health edge-dwellers a platform is contributing to the erosion, and ultimately the destruction, of trust in experts and the media.

Those denied a media-approved soapbox are quick to cry censorship and scuttle off to write for fringe organisations like the Institute of Race Relations or the Cape Times.

It’s hard to feel sorry for them, and of course it isn’t censorship if they still have platforms. But one side-effect of their nonsense is that they give ammunition to those who do want to restrict our freedoms.

As a result of all the misinformation being disseminated, the government has criminalised disinformation about Covid-19. It’s hard to disagree with this stance, but we need to remain vigilant. Any restrictions on free speech are a chip in our constitutional armour.

I’d rather live in a world where you can trust people to consume the true information being published and ignore the disinformation. Alas, and in part thanks to the broniacs who play loosely with the truth for their own selfish ends, that time might have passed forever.

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