Parliamentary hearings, instruments of disinformation for…

The video had gone viral in 2021: Outside the Ohio House of Representatives, a nurse wanted to show that the anti-Covid vaccines made people magnetic by trying in vain to “stick” a key to their neck. .

From the United States to France, since the beginning of the pandemic, several parliamentary committees have heard from disinformation figures who were quick to share excerpts of their interventions on social media, thus being overlaid with a semblance of legitimacy.

Notorious fake news purveyors like Peter McCullough have been auditioned by Senate committees, for example in Texas and even the US Senate in Washington. In Ohio, elected officials had also invited Sherri Tenpenny, a supporter of the magnetic vaccine theory that has been repeatedly debunked.

In this case, the ‘test’ of the key had mostly caused sarcasm, but scientists, elected officials and netizens were alarmed when Infox and conspiracy theories took advantage of such a platform.

These hearings “are part of an arsenal of disinformation,” Sebastian Dieguez, a conspiracy specialist at the University of Friborg (Switzerland), told AFP.

Paradoxically, these movements “need the seal of legitimacy that the ‘system’ gives them” (elected officials, the media, etc.) that they nevertheless spend their time denying, he notes.

– “legitimacy” –

“Participating in hearings gives these points of view a legitimate platform,” says Molly Reynolds of the American think tank Brookings Institution.

Regarding the “spreading of disinformation,” “this is obviously a cause for concern,” continues this congressional specialist, who in some cases “suspects” elected Republicans to have invited anti-vaccinationists to support their own views.

But not always: without sharing their opinion, parliamentarians may find it necessary not to censor anyone, notes Mr. Dieguez.

There is a risk of legitimizing fake news, “but on the other hand, shouldn’t everyone be heard in a legislative process? (…) even if it means instilling a false balance by voicing attitudes that are not just a minority, but also often quite impertinent,” he asks, believing that “it’s a kind of trap”.

This has been criticized at the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Decisions (Opecst), which is responsible for investigating “the adverse effects of vaccines against Covid-19 and the French pharmacovigilance system”.

In the Express, Professor Alain Fischer particularly judged “regrettable (…) a public hearing in which specialists who rely on scientific data and pseudo-experts who represent opinions were put on the same level. not based on scientific facts”.

Some speakers had presented misleading figures on vaccine side effects.

“It boils down to giving them some form of legitimacy,” said the medic, who was himself heard at that Senate hearing in May.

– “vote” –

An argument rejected by the Office, its then president, the deputy and mathematician Cédric Villani, who reiterated that “the panel of speakers (…) has not claimed not to confer greater or lesser legitimacy on this or that”.

“Giving the floor only to those whom we believe have the right to speak seems to me to be particularly detrimental to our democratic functioning,” argues AFP Senator Sonia de La Provôté, Opect rapporteur.

“Opecst is finally quite proud (…) to be able to audition everyone,” she continues, arguing that elected officials and pundits were able to rebut certain false remarks made during the hearings.

In January, it was Luc Montagnier, Christian Perronne and Alexandra Henrion-Caude who were repeatedly pinned for leaking infox on the health crisis, being heard by elected Luxembourg officials following anti-vaccination petitions.

As authorized by the Grand Duchy, the petitioners had opted to be heard by the Chamber of Deputies alongside these three personalities.

“It was evident (…) that most of their claims constituted untruths, incorrect or even misleading information,” Fernand Etgen, president of the chamber, told AFP in January.

In doing so, Parliament had considered it necessary to provide for a change in the rules, if only to set “time limits for communicating the identity of the experts”.

Warned the day before about their identity, MEPs were “impossible to prepare,” Mr Etgen said.

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