When some of the richest and most influential people in the world gathered The World Economic Forum annual meeting last year, climate change sessions drew high-level discussions on topics such as carbon financing and sustainable food systems.
But a completely different narrative is playing out on the internet, with social media users saying the leaders want to force the population to eat insects instead of meat in the name of save the environment.
The annual event in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos, which opens on Monday, has been the target of outlandish claims from a growing chorus of commentators who believe the forum includes a group of elites who manipulate global events for their own benefit. Experts say what was once a conspiracy theory found in the depths of the internet has now hit the mainstream.
“This is not a conspiracy that plays out at the extremes,” said Alex Friedfeld, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League who studies anti-government extremism. “We’re seeing it on mainstream social media platforms being shared by regular Americans. We’re seeing it being spread by mainstream media figures right on their prime time news, on their networks every night.
The meeting attracts heads of state, business executives, cultural trendsetters and representatives from international organizations to the luxe mountain city. Although it is often unclear how much concrete action will emerge, the meeting is set to address pressing global issues from climate change and economic uncertainty to geopolitical instability and public health.
Hundreds of public sessions are planned, but the four-day conference is also known for secret backroom meetings and deal-making among business leaders. This gap between what is shown to the public and what happens behind closed doors helps make the meeting a flashpoint for misinformation.
“When we have a very high level of ambiguity, it’s easy to fill the narratives,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who is the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and also studies misinformation.
Theories about influential world leaders are not new, he said, but scrutiny of the forum and its chairman, Klaus Schwab, intensified in 2020 in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. That year, the theme of the annual meeting is “The Great Reset.” The initiative envisages many changes in how societies and economies work to recover from the pandemic and build a more sustainable future.
Now, in more and more corners of the internet and on conservative talk shows, “The Great Reset” has become shorthand for what skeptics say is a reorganization of society, using global uncertainty as a cap on the acquisition of rights. Believers argue that measures including pandemic lockdowns and vaccine mandates are tools to consolidate power and erode individual sovereignty.
In a time of heightened anxiety, Jamieson says the public has become more susceptible to falsehoods, as conspiracy theories emerge as a tool to quell the chaos. Researchers who monitor extremism say these beliefs are becoming more popular and more worrisome.
At a rally held on the grounds of an upstate New York church last fall, a photo of Schwab was displayed in the center of a large screen along with other “villains” accused of threatening those American values. A crowd of thousands gathered in a revivalist tent in a traveling roadshow used as a recruiting tool for an ascendant Christian nationalist movement. Participants discussed “The Great Reset,” among many other theories, as an attack on America’s foundations.
The phrase is used more than 60 times in all programs of fox NEwS in 2022, according to a tally generated by the Internet Archive’s TV news database. That’s up from 30 mentions in 2021 and about 20 in 2020. It’s frequently mentioned on “The Ingraham Angle” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
And in August, between a defamation trial for calling the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack a hoax, the host of Infowars Alex Jones released a book called “The Great Reset: And The War For the World.” It is described as an analysis of the “international conspiracy of the world’s elites to enslave humanity and all life on the planet.”
While the World Economic Forum has been involved in this narrative, a steady stream of claims has plagued the organization. While some people have offered legitimate criticisms of the forum — namely that it hosts wealthy executives who fly emissions-spewing corporate jets — others have spread unproven or baseless claims. information as truth.
For example, a site known for spreading fabricated stories falsely admitted last month that Schwab publicly advocated the decriminalization of sex between children and adults, using an invented quote and other baseless statements. However, it got tens of thousands of shares Twitter and Facebook.
Meanwhile, the popular claim that the forum wants people to replace meat with bugs is a distorted reference to an article previously published on the organization’s website. In another instance, a widely shared post admitted there is no evidence that the forum “educated” US Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House before the actual vote took place.
The concern, Friedfeld said, is that posts like this could introduce people to wild and dangerous conspiracy theories or even translate into real-world violence. Yann Zopf, head of media for the forum, says that the organization is increasing the monitoring of this type of online activity and is carefully watching for direct threats.
“Doing all those things can create enemies that people believe are responsible for whatever bad thing is happening in the world,” Friedfeld said. “When that happens, when you believe that things are happening in the world and a person or a group of people is responsible for these attacks, suddenly, the idea of using violence to resist becomes more plausible. “
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