If you ever asked questions about 9/11 on social media, you know that there was always an unusual amount of people who would claim that they had a family member or close friend die in that event. In fact, it seemed like every time you entered a forum there would be someone who knew someone. Strange isn't it?
It's not that strange at all when you find out that claiming to know an authority is an established government disinformation tactic.
Over the years, people have either leaked or discovered how these groups seek to direct the course of a thread. You can find a detailed list here: Clarity of Signal - Recognizing the enemy. Many are forms of logical fallacy, or just ways to stop people looking at the evidence in the first place.
In this case, this tactic is relevant:
Invoke authority. Claim for yourself or associate yourself with authority and present your argument with enough ‘jargon’ and ‘minutia’ to illustrate you are ‘one who knows’, and simply say it isn’t so without discussing issues or demonstrating concretely why or citing sources.
So you claim authority by saying you know someone who died. This is even more powerful than just claiming you're an expert, because it has the added aspect of strong emotions. Nobody wants to look like the asshole who questions that kind of personal experience. And of course, who could lie about such a thing?
And that's exactly what makes it such a good lie. Normal people couldn't imagine lying like that, and so they don't think that others would come up with such a callous untruth to direct the flow of an online discussion.
If you point out that it's an established disinformation tactic, the operative portrays your statement as an accusation, or claims some moral high ground. The emotions kick in, and they never have to defend their claims.
Some people still might think I'm paranoid for believing that governments and other groups attempt to manipulate opinions using the Internet. But no, of course they do. They used newspapers, they used television, of course they use the internet, of course they use social media. It's a clear pattern.
There are powerful people in this world, and there are people who want you to buy in to their way of thinking about it. There are people with the resources to make that a reality.
They have the intent, and they have the capability. In military terms, intent multiplied by capability is the level of threat.
To be unaware of a threat is to be vulnerable. To be aware of the potential of a threat and be prepared how to respond to it, is discernment.
So what do you do when you do find someone who starts claiming their grandmother, mother, sister and daughter all died because of coronavirus - I mean, 9/11?
First, be aware of your level of belief and emotions. Be aware that there are more options available to you than simply believing them entirely, or accusing them of being a liar.
You don't have to be callous in your response. After all, there's always the chance that they're genuine. You can even say that you're sorry for their loss. But you don't have to stop asking questions just because the conversation suddenly became a little more delicate.
Personally, while I spend time engaging in online threads, it does occur to me that perhaps the best way to handle it is to walk away. Instead, find any other form of communication. Text is a medium which lends itself to misinterpretation and disruption, especially when it's online between two strangers. Now, more than ever, you are free to record podcasts, videos, draw pictures, make memes, even send voice messages to friends in order to calm their nerves or illustrate another way of thinking about the current situation.
If you believe, or put a lot of weight on a random stranger's claim on the Internet, without evidence, you are a sucker. Be aware of the potential of disinformation, and you can be discerning.
You don't have to accuse anyone of being a liar. You can even express sympathy without your inner reason being affected.
You remain sovereign in the palace of your own mind, and you have all of your mental resources to express yourself in a way that is accurate, persuasive, and even beautiful.
Exercise discernment, and be creative.