Not many expected the impact that SARS-CoV-2 (more commonly known as the COVID-19 pandemic) would have globally. The pandemic took everyone by surprise and the scientific race that followed for the development of a safe vaccine was unprecedented. Usually, the development of a safe vaccine can take 10 years and cost billions of US dollars. However, vaccines for COVID-19 started appearing within a year.
At the time of writing this report there are 254,382,438 reported cases, while the virus has claimed 5,114,874 lives globally. So far over 7.5 billion doses have been given to people and 41.6 percent of the world’s population is fully vaccinated. However, despite this extraordinary scientific leap a large wave of antivaccination denialists have appeared globally.
Vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is a complex and context-specific issue that varies across time, place, and type of vaccine. At the same time, it is influenced by different factors such as community trauma, scientific scepticism and political beliefs. What might differ this time compared to the past is the way information spreads and the role of social media companies in the spread of information and misinformation. In 2020 the Center for Countering Digital Hate looked closely at the way tech companies power and profit from vaccine misinformation and found that anti-vax social media accounts have 58 million followers.
Vaccine hesitancy is closely related to conspiracy theories that focus on science. Both can have lethal consequences. One of the most recent examples that follows a similar pattern to conspiracy theories that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic is the HIV/AIDS denialist movement. This movement does not accept the link between HIV and AIDS and claims that the drugs that are administered to HIV patients are more harmful than AIDS and that their aim is to cause genocide.
The rapid spread of misinformation online, as well as the narratives that are used in anti-vax circles, are the reasons behind these reports. By monitoring media across Europe, a pattern of misinformation was noticeable: anti-vaccination narratives throughout the continent seem to adopt antisemitic narratives which are common in other conspiracy theories. In previous reports published by Get The Trolls Out! – specifically the two reports that focus on the QAnon conspiracy theory – the role of the internet, and specifically Big Tech, was clear. Continuing the research that was started a few years ago on conspiracy theories and narratives, this report sets a more focused aim and attempts to identify antisemitic tropes
within the online COVID-19 anti-vaccination conspiracy theories in Europe.
With this as our aim, we tried to identify the connection between anti-vax conspiracy theories and antisemitism, and the way they spread on social media. Eight media monitors from Get The Trolls Out! partner organisations in Belgium (Flanders), Belgium (Wallonia), France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and the United Kingdom (UK) monitored Facebook and Twitter in their countries and identified hashtags, private and public groups, and prominent figures who spread misinformation related to COVID-19 and the vaccines. Through these results, they identified antisemitic narratives. The period monitored is from March 2021-August 2021, however, in some cases the period was extended in order
to include recent developments.
The results of the monitoring exercise are not surprising. Antisemitic narratives are present within anti-vax conspiracies in the countries where monitoring took place. In some countries antisemitism is more subtle than in others, however, it is still part of conspiracist efforts to spread misinformation and fear.
One narrative that all countries have in common is an old antisemitic narrative: a group of powerful Jewish people that want to take over the world. In most countries such as Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia), France, Hungary, Germany, and Poland this powerful figure takes the form of philanthropist George Soros or of the Rothschild family, who are generally central figures in antisemitic conspiracy theories. In other cases, those powerful secret figures are not named but implied. In Greece – which does not always present the same narratives as the other countries – these forces are represented as part of a satanic cult that targets Orthodox Christianity. This is not surprising, as vaccine hesitancy is prominent within religious circles in the country. Another narrative that all countries have in common is that of victimhood. Our media monitoring showed that the comparisons to the Holocaust and the representation of citizens as the ‘new Jews’ is widespread. In demonstrations in the UK, Belgium, France, and Germany there were people wearing the Star of David in order to emphasise their similarities to the Jewish population that was persecuted in Nazi Germany and throughout Europe. Dog-whistling is also another common trait in anti-vax narratives, which is also represented
by implying that there is something unknown seeking world domination.
Despite efforts to tackle COVID-19 misinformation by Big Tech, the role of social media in the spread of such narratives is clear and rather concerning. Anti-vax conspiracists use an abundance of online methods in order to spread misinformation and hate.
- It is rather common for anti-vaxxers to use Holocaust comparisons and consider themselves as the ’new Jews’.
- Variation of established antisemitic conspiracy ideologies, such as ‘The Great Reset’ and the ‘New World Order’, play a significant role and are seen in several countries.
- Antisemitic dog whistle, or coded language, such as using the word ‘globalists’ instead of ‘Jews’, is present throughout Europe.
- Feeling or causing fear is one of the main methods of uniting conspiracists.
- Victim mentality is common among anti-vaxxers.
- Connections to the far right are present in several countries
1. Holocaust Comparisons and ‘the new Jews„
This comparison is contradictory to another dominant narrative in anti-vaccine networks: the conspiracy theory alleging that Jews seek world domination.
2. The Great Reset and the New World Order
3. Antisemitic Dog Whistle
dominant role), and Hungary (where George Soros is at the heart of antisemitic narratives). The production of vaccines by people who are Jewish or perceived as such is strategically used to further these hateful narratives.
5. Victim Mentality
6. Connection to Far-Right Ideologies
Get the Trolls Out!:
Antisemitism and anti-vax discourse in Europe.
A report on conspiracy ideologies and anti-Jewish hatred on Facebook and Twitter.
Download the report as a PDF here:
- Introduction and Key Points
- Academic Literature Review
- Conspiracy Theory and Conspiracy Theorists
- The Spread of Conspiracy Theories
- Antisemitism in Conspiracy Theories
- Country Reports
- Belgium Flanders
- Belgium Wallonia
- United Kingdom