A young man stood up in front of all of Victoria and spoke bravely about a deeply personal experience. What followed was disgusting.
Imagine for a second how daunting it would be to stand up in front of Victoria’s press gallery and tell your harrowing story about being infected with Covid-19, knowing that perfect strangers will use the footage to spread dangerous misinformation and label you a liar and a paid actor.
That is what happened this week to a young man suffering the harrowing effects of long Covid — symptoms that turned him from a world-class college athlete into a shadow of his former self and left him unable to get out of bed months after contracting the virus.
Will, who spoke genuinely and with good intentions beside the Premier Daniel Andrews this week, has since been subjected to the most vile comments by conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers who still, 20 months into the pandemic, find new reasons to believe Covid-19 is harmless.
“No such thing as long Covid,” an anonymous account remarked on a video of Will discussing his battle.
“How much was he paid to say what you wanted him to say?” another faceless troll chimed in.
There were hundreds of similar remarks from a network of bots that aimed to undermine the message, as they have throughout the pandemic.
“I can tell you right now that if I have a story which is real, genuine and especially personal to me, I wouldn’t need to read off a script,” wrote one social media user who did not use his real name.
“Isn’t he a crisis actor??” wrote another. “Swear I’ve seen him before doing exactly this.”
Others were so keen to unearth the so-called truth about Will that they went searching for his likeness on the internet.
They uncovered and shared his social media and networking accounts — a textbook move for those who see doxing as acceptable behaviour.
In all, trolls reduced Will’s story — one that started with an infection in March 2020 that has plagued him since — to a bunch of lies read from a script written by somebody else and paid for by big pharma.
Michelle, who is the ICU nursing unit manager at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, was targeted a day earlier when the Andrews government wheeled her out to share horrifying anecdotes from the front line of the fight against Covid.
“One of the saddest things I’ve seen over the last few weeks is people wanting the vaccination just before we put them on a life support machine. That is the absolute truth, I’ve seen it myself,” she said.
“They’re begging for the vaccination, they’re very young, and once we get to that and we’re about to put them on life support, it really is too late.
“Their families are remorseful. They’re begging us to give them the vaccination. This could be you.”
The message is an important one, as infections have reached a pandemic high in recent days, and 11 Victorians died from Covid-19 in a single 24-hour period this week.
But the response on social media was disgraceful.
Dozens of accounts were created specifically to troll Michelle. They followed no one, had no followers, and were restricted on Twitter within hours because of “unusual activity”.
Other accounts did everything possible to paint a picture of the Royal Melbourne Hospital worker as a paid actor.
An account belonging to a Steve Crowley, which featured a profile picture of a man in a hat with the words “Make Victoria Great Again”, suggested Michelle was not a nurse at all.
“The same ‘nurse’ Dan rolled out today posted Dan propaganda on her LinkedIn a year ago,” he wrote, referring to a picture of Michelle in scrubs next to words encouraging Victorians to “pull together”.
Not the most controversial of messages.
Steve, who had clearly spent some time trawling through Michelle’s social media accounts, wrote that she had listed “no previous positions” which he deemed “very strange”.
“Is she a real nurse or an actor?” he asked, before later appearing to answer his own question.
“Someone has advised me that Michelle is a nurse … It’s still propaganda, nurse or otherwise.”
Let’s just unpack that last bit. A nurse, in the middle of the worst outbreak of Covid Victoria has seen, took the time to speak to the public about the risks associated with being unvaccinated against the virus.
That is not propaganda. It is a vital public health message that will save lives.
And those delivering it deserve so much more than to be treated with disrespect by members of the public obsessed with an alternative narrative that has no grounding in truth whatsoever.