‘Water God’, Anti-lockdown Protests: What’s Behind Unscientific Responses to Covid-19?

‘Water God’, Anti-lockdown Protests: What’s Behind Unscientific Responses to Covid-19?
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
What you need to know

As protests against the lockdown and vaccines arise in the United States, and a corporation in Taiwan claims its liquid disinfectant is safe for consumption, Covid-19 has given new energy to anti-science politics.

Whether a political party is at the height of its power or enfeebled by factions, whether it’s waging an electoral battle or enjoying peace and stability, hating “the other party” will always find an outlet to be expressed.

It is the easiest to manipulate public sentiment during elections: direct all blame towards the opponent and project an impression of “I’m good, and you’re evil.” Consider it a success if you can mobilize people to take to the streets. Political leaders and advocates can gain all kinds of benefits from stirring up these emotions.

Outside of campaigning, political puppeteers manufacture imaginary enemies to satisfy people’s need to release their pent up frustration, and when the time comes, they would have an “army” ready to charge at their appointed enemy.

In the United States, anti-lockdown protesters have taken to the streets along with some people who are anti-vaccine. Whereas in Taiwan, a corporation distributed liquid disinfectants that look exactly like bottled water and claimed that they're safe for consumption despite government warnings.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown movements in the U.S. are anti-Obama and anti-Democrat

When the measles outbreak was raging in the U.S. last year, anti-vaxxers claimed that vitamin A was more effective than vaccines among spreading other misinformation. The motivations underlying these conspiracies are inseparable from the Republican attacks against the Obama administration.

During the current pandemic, some Americans have protested the “stay-at-home” orders in various states. Among the protesters, some brought their rifles as a symbol of their Second Amendment rights, others raised banners that read “vaccines have made my child weird.” These have overlapped with the thoughts of the usual conspirators and were part of Donald Trump’s base of support in 2016.

Where did the anti-lockdown protests take place? New York (which is ever-present on Taiwanese media), Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio. All but Ohio are governed by Democrats, and Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine is at odds with Trump.

Many of the protest organizers, for example, the right-wing non-profit Michigan Conservative Coalition, understand that they exist to lay the foundation for Trump’s reelection. Fox News also denounced from the outset the governors who locked down their states and urged them to make appropriate responses. Even Trump himself spoke highly of these protesters at a press conference.

Of course, the protests include idealistic supporters of the American Revolution slogan, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” But more abundant were the signs that read, “Your health is not as important as my freedom.” When protesters assembled, they removed their masks and left their cars, endangering the people around them. It’s not too far-fetched to label these people as “populists” or “anti-science.”

Don’t treat ‘Water God’ as a normal marketing scheme

In Taiwan, a similar kind of anti-science populism is rising out of things that seem irrelevant to the American protest movement, like Want Want Group’s “Water God” campaign.

According to Want Want’s ad, the content of “Water God” is not too different from any other hypochlorous acid water. But unlike other manufacturers that clearly label their products to warn against skin contact, the “Water God” products seem to be rather special.

In February, China Times, a Want Want-owned media outlet, published articles about how “Water God” would not cause any harm if it’s used in handwashing. Shortly after the reports, the Ministry of Health and Welfare warned against using “Water God” on the human body.

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Photo Credit: Hsinchu County Government

However, Want Want didn’t stop there. The company started pushing for this product’s use as a mouthwash on its TV news channel, CTi News. Later on, Want Want Chairman Tsai Eng-meng and a “Water God” representative also brazenly drank their own products on camera.

If we look closer, Want Want is imitating ways in which the tobacco companies used to insist that “nicotine is harmless” by having the CEO tell you himself. Want Want has also donated two million bottles of “Water God” to counties and cities that are mostly governed by the Kuomintang, spreading these to the hands of the public via village officers and small-to-medium sized businesses. Want Want also went through the pro-KMT media in its pocket to reach its target market.

As misinformation spreads among the public, the ruling DPP has doubled down on its punishments for violating quarantines, while the KMT in opposition party has kept questioning these decisions, causing further friction. Amid the discord, irrational supporters could stir up emotions with comments like “Want Want is giving back to Taiwan but Tsai Ing-wen forbids it” or “Why is it an exclusive right for the DPP to love Taiwan?”

These new targets are perfect for uniting the group of people who feel lost after the election since they have nothing else upon which to fixate their disappointment. The laws, the testing systems - none of it matters.

To turn people into soldiers, you have to first create a concrete enemy with clear coordinates. It is much easier, then, for the commander to order attacks.

Following these quiet tugs-of-war, the kinds of people are gradually forming their own camps: Trump fans and non-Trump fans, Han fans and non-Han fans, and anti-vaxxers, “Water God” believers and “Water God” haters. Every community knows exactly what its values and default responses are, which party and political candidate it should support.

This article was originally published in Chinese on The News Lens.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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