Misleading Responsibility: the social impact of Poland’s so-called “Corona experts”5 min read

 In Central Europe, COVID-19, Culture, Opinion
While everyone has the right to express their opinions freely, what happens when your opinions are scientifically proven to be misleading or false? Madonna, M.I.A, and John Cusack are just a few examples of Hollywood stars with millions of followers on social media. They are also some of the world-famous celebrities responsible for pushing conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic to their fans. While most people know about Madonna, less are probably familiar with Poland’s most famous conspiracy theory celebrities. Although their reach on social media is incomparable to that of the Hollywood elite, the possibility to influence thousands of people with misinformation remains the same. 

It is neither surprising nor new that people in stressful situations turn to conspiracy theories that explain the world in simplified and often exaggerated ways. While conspiracy theories thrive with or without the support of celebrities, what differentiates conspiracy theories about COVID-19 from Flat Earthers, is that conspiracies about the pandemic can turn into a matter of life and death. 

Growing scepticism

Last year, confusion grew within Polish society after the government introduced a mandate to wear face masks in public. Global shifting and sometimes contradictory ideas about the effectiveness of wearing face masks in public might have served to aggravate the feelings among those who already felt sceptical about the pandemic. Facebook groups like “I don’t believe in the Coronavirus – a support group” or pages like “Open Mind” gathered thousands of people looking for support and alternative explanations of what was going on, while others found a place to validate their scepticism on the social media accounts of various celebrities.

Working for God

One such celebrity was Edyta Górniak, a famous Polish singer who in 1994 came in second place in the Eurovision Song Contest with her song “To nie ja”. Górniak, who regularly goes live on Instagram, has spent the last year telling her followers that the ongoing pandemic is “a sign from heaven”, declaring that she is working for God and “not for the horned bastard and his corporation”

In November last year, she went live for three hours and spoke about the pandemic. She claimed that those who had been infected by the virus and hospitalized were in fact actors. Later, when she was invited to the TV show Gość Wydarzeń to address the statements that she had made on Instagram, she claimed that they were taken out of context – even though the recording clearly shows that she suggests that actors were simulating COVID-19 patients in the country’s hospitals. 

While she eventually removed the controversial video from her Instagram account, Górniak has declared that neither she nor her teenage son will get vaccinated. “If they want to shoot us for it, they will shoot us” she stated. At the same time, she has also said that she does not discourage anyone from getting vaccinated. However, listening to her declarations may discourage those who harbour doubts about the safety of getting vaccinated. 

A conspiracy by the elites

Just like Górniak, another celebrity and former model, Viola Kołakowska, has become increasingly vocal about her doubts regarding COVID-19 and the vaccines

In 2020 Kołakowska was nominated for the sarcastic award Biological Crap of the Year for saying that the pandemic is fake. Even if the world knows otherwise, she stands behind her opinion, which she continues to spread on social media. In May 2020, she told her followers on Instagram that 90% of humanity will die from Bill Gates’ sponsored vaccines. On a similar note, Kołakowska has claimed that COVID-19 is a fiction created by the so-called “ruling elite”. Additionally, she discourages her followers from wearing masks, saying that neither she nor her children will wear them. 

Contrary to Górniak, Kołakowska has not backed away from her comments. At the beginning of April this year, she reacted to the death of legendary singer, Krzysztof Krawczyk. Despite having been vaccinated, Krawczyk contracted the virus in early April. Yet, the cause of death was not related to Corona, but to multiple underlying health problems. Still, Kołakowska claimed Krawczyk had died as a result of getting vaccinated, stating that “we are shouting – do not get vaccinated because the vaccine causes a lack of immune response to the virus.” 

Bluffs and myths

Górniak and Kołakowska are not alone. In August last year, popular pop singer Ivan Komarenko released a song called “Bluffs and Myths”, which he dedicated to the former Minister of Health, Łukasz Szumowski. Komarenko accused Szumowski of lying about the pandemic. He also claimed that the minister should be blamed for closing down small businesses during the pandemic. According to Komarenko, this will turn Poland into a poor country. 

Throughout last year, Komarenko participated in numerous anti-pandemic marches in different Polish cities. 

So what about social responsibility? 

Despite the enormous criticism that Polish anti-COVID 19 celebrities are faced with, what they say still reaches thousands of people who are following them on social media. According to a poll by Kantar from February this year, 43% of Poles believe that COVID-19 was created in a laboratory, while 25% believe that it was initiated by the pharmaceutical industry. Is this the result of listening to self-declared “pandemic specialists”?

We are all entitled to have our own beliefs and opinions. Yet, it is quite disturbing when the existence of a global pandemic that at some point paralyzed the whole modern world is put into question. When wearing masks are compared to wearing dog muzzles, and vaccination rejected using scientifically poor arguments. As members of society, we do not only have rights – but duties. One of them is being responsible not only for ourselves but for those around us. 

It is true that in democratic societies we have the right to express our opinion, but what happens when this opinion is scientifically proven to be misleading or false? Would it be appropriate to hold celebrities responsible for spreading fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic? 

In the end, celebrities have something that we, average citizens do not – the power to influence millions of people through their social media accounts. This invisible power should make any person with significant influence on social media think not twice, but ten times before publishing something related to issues that concern the health and well-being of other people. 

Featured image: Poland’s Corona “Experts” / Amanda Sonesson
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