Beware the COVID gaslighter

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Opinion: Don't let keyboard warriors invalidate your efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

It’s nearly been one year since the COVID19 pandemic touched down in North America. In that time, we’ve faced lockdowns, mass testing, masks and business closures. But as we’ve come to discover, apparently all that wasn’t enough to convince some people that this virus is serious.

While many of us have made drastic sacrifices to protect our communities and loved ones from the deadly COVID-19 virus, others were suggesting that there was nothing to fear.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “gaslighter” before, but what does it mean? The term can be traced back to a 1944 film entitled Gaslight, wherein an aspiring opera singer, Paula (Ingrid Bergman) witnesses strange goings-on at the Tower of London. She sees pictures disappear from the walls, hears footsteps from the attic and watches as the gaslights lining the hallways dim and brighten without reason.

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Her husband and secret murderer, Gregory (Charles Boyer), convinces her that these happenings are all a figment of her imagination. This leads Paula to assume she must be going insane, invalidating her experiences and allowing Gregory to obtain power of attorney over her.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is a common facet of relationship abuse. It is a psychological tool used to manipulate people into thinking that their version of events is inaccurate. In modern times, we see it in phrases like, “you’re overreacting,” or “stop taking everything I say so seriously.”

Now, as cases of COVID-19 soar and Ontario embarks on its second lockdown, the COVID gaslighters are louder than ever. Antimask rallies throughout the autumn months highlighted the stark difference in how some people chose to respond to public health measures compared to others. If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve probably seen these gaslighters in the comment sections of news articles pertaining to the virus.

They suggest the media is fear mongering, that the virus only kills one per cent of those it infects. Over the holidays, they scoffed at those of us who obeyed orders to stay home and not see our families. They seek to invalidate the efforts of those who abide by public health guidelines by suggesting that we are overreacting and living in fear.

If you’ve felt personally affected by these kinds of attacks, let me make it clear: you are not crazy. In a world as politically divided as ours, it somehow became voguish to distrust public health officials in 2020. With so much spare time on our hands, the internet did what it does best, creating a space for conspiracy theorists and those simply unwilling to change to connect online and share their feelings of distrust without opposing discourse.

This confirmation bias breeds confidence in a skewed version of reality, wherein COVID19 is but an exaggerated flu, killing only the old and weak. They spread this confidence to the outside world, making us question our reality. Since many of us have not seen the virus up close, it might be possible to believe that it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be.

But as time passes, it’s becoming clear. We all will either contract COVID-19 or will know someone who will. We will all see its devastating effects years down the line, as even the healthiest individuals could suffer long-term respiratory problems.

ICU patients and staff will be coping with the mental trauma of witnessing so much death for the rest of their lives. Children will grow up without grandparents, married couples without their spouses, adults without parents.

If this all sounds scary, it’s because it is. The pandemic gaslighters will try to convince you that living in fear is somehow a bad thing, but it’s not. We should be at least a little afraid of this virus and take the right steps to curb it. Just know that one day, when this is all over, that the efforts of those who tried to protect people’s lives will be remembered. Meanwhile, those who sought to invalidate the virus’s existence, will be long forgotten.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.