Shops using the charter to bypass Covid laws may seem funny – but the online culture that spawns such misinformation is not

As someone who writes about online culture, I spend a fair bit of time researching the internet’s shady corners – and it’s hard to be surprised by anything any more. But, last year, there was something uncanny about seeing conspiracist attitudes usually reserved for the screen – comment sections, forums, chat boxes on Facebook and on any trending hashtag on Twitter or Instagram – spilling over into the physical world in the form of protests, both individual and collective.

We’re all familiar to an extent with the Covid-sceptic worldview: one that stretches from claims that the pandemic itself is a “hoax” to the notion that the vaccine rollout is part of a sinister plot by world governments. This, coupled with a number of rightwing commentators in the US and the UK downplaying the threat of Covid-19 to hundreds of thousands of followers, meant that 2020 wasn’t just about navigating a major global health crisis – for many people, it was about partaking in a culture war premised on notions of freedom. It’s a “debate” that’s largely been created and defined by the internet.

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