Anonymous calls, death threats: brutal cyberbullying of scientists since the beginning of covid

While they were applauded in the windows every evening, medical workers and scientists working against Covid-19 were also insulted and threatened on the networks. And these cyberbullying campaigns continue two years later. We gave them the floor.

Survey results published in The science March 24, 2020 shows a significant increase in cyber-violence against scientists involved in the fight against covid. While the vast majority of them have never experienced acts of cyberbullying in their careers, 38% testified to having been victims of cyberbullying since the onset of the health crisis, sometimes moving into a physical act. Death threats, insults, disclosure of personal data, incitement to suicide … A surge of hatred from which French doctors and scientists suffered.

“Before 2020, we would never have thought that carers could become victims of such attacks”

It started in March 2020 when we started talking about hydroxychloroquine and questioning the quality of the IHU research. explains Dr. Frank Claro, very active on Twitter under the pseudonym @Le___Doc. “ During the confinement, things got even worse when the astonishment passed. Every day we received our portion of insults and threats. This continued when we talked about Rivotril. People accused us of killing patients.”

From blazing (a pointed insult as vulgar as it is cruel) to death threats, Frank Claro saw it all. ” Someone even created an account to threaten me. Under the nickname “Doc_Mort” he multiplied the threats against me and my family. It was a turning point. I filed a complaint, a complaint that is still under investigation. »

Screenshot of threats received by Frank Claro on Twitter

For his part, Dr. Jérôme Marty, general practitioner and vice-president of the URPS ML union of medical professionals and liberal doctors, also testifies to the surge of hate on the Internet, with “peaks” every time it appears on television or radio. . ” The wall has fallen. Until 2020, we would never have thought that caregivers could be victims of such attacks. For several days, my name was trending on Twitter and I received over 35,000 abuse notifications. We are not equipped for this.The general practitioner testifies that he was the subject of coordinated and targeted attacks by groups of Internet users who have coalesced around anti-vaccination figures such as Louis Fouchet.

Organized attacks

Because today it is a fact: if a few people act alone, many come together to create group actions in the network. Stephen, pseudonym @Esban_ on Twitter, at the start of the crisis, was one of the most vehement “covid-skeptics”, seduced by conspiracy theories and anti-vaccines before reversing course.

If he is now taking a line based on scientific evidence, he was able to participate in various groups and in particular in the “CIA” group on Twitter, which ” brought together several people from the Marseille IHU, relatives of Professor Raul and Xavier Alzaber, director of France Soir. He testified that in this way he took part in a concerted action aimed at persecuting the critics of the Marseille professor in order to destabilize them and silence them. Today, the existence of this group has been proven and even recognized by Xavier Alzabert himself.

“There is no way to protect yourself”

Jérôme Marty also mentions actions taken on other networks: ” One weekend I saw a thread of “avenging angels” on my public Facebook account. (cyberstalkers, especially those with digital tools. Ed.) All my posts, as well as those of my relatives, were marked with multiple comments with great cruelty. I blocked different accounts for hours.Jérôme Marty no longer counts insulting and threatening private messages or account hacking attempts and has filed a complaint 11 times since the crisis began. He also received many anonymous calls and saw his business page on Google filled with negative comments questioning his integrity. ” This is terrible, there is no way to either defend or delete comments. They will haunt me throughout my career. »

Scientists also aim

Scientists are not left out. Mathieu Rebaud, a doctoral student in biology at the University of Lausanne, is also under a barrage of insults and threats, very active on Twitter and co-author of a meta-analysis demonstrating the ineffectiveness of hydroxychloroquine. “ I had the right to attack my skills, my job, my physique. I was told that I was sold to Big Pharma … And then there were death threats and death threats. »

Anonymous calls, death threats: brutal cyberbullying of scientists since the beginning of covid
Insult received by Mathieu Rebo on Twitter

Of the threats that Mathieu Mulot, biostatistician and co-author of the same study, Numerama also testifies: “ One day I received a message that said: “I met you at MIGROS (Swiss supermarket, approx. ed.). Next time I’ll kick your ass.”‘. »

Two researchers also mention actions seal The practice of persistently asking for information or arguments in order to provoke an angry reaction and be able to present the interviewee as someone aggressive. ” it’s really tiring laments Mathieu Mulot.

For the two scientists, if everything has its source on Twitter, the action has gone beyond social media. ” My university has received emails asking about my work and with the express purpose of getting me fired. ” explains Mathieu Rebo. ” There were also anonymous calls and an email saying, “I know where your parents live.” » Mathieu Mulot says for his part: “After the study was published, my mother began to receive anonymous calls. »

Didier Raoult
Didier Raoult in his video on November 25, 2020 // Source: IHU Méditerranée-Infection

The Psychological Impact of Cyberbullying

All the people we spoke to testified to the significant impact of these various attacks on their privacy. Hypervigilance returns systematically, along with insomnia, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating. “You really need good support to keep going. commented by Mathieu Mulot.

All of them also enter into exchanges with “ It’s sad to say but you get used to it “, deploring GAFAM’s passivity in the face of cyberbullying. Physicians also deplore the inaction of their Order, which, in the words of Frank Claro, ” for a long time endured unacceptable treatment from some doctors who made dangerous statements on the Internet and on TV. »

Burnt, but still determined to continue to express themselves and popularize science on the web, they developed cope (successful handling of a difficult situation): systematic if not preventive blocking, account security, blocking comments and, above all, refusal to interact. ” Cyberstalkers only exist if they have a resonator. “Mathieu Mulot concludes a little fatalistically.

For further

What to do in case of cyberbullying?  // Source: Kaur Kristjan / Unsplash

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