From Coronavirus to Infox: mutation & transmission
Creating the artwork
The students beautifully rendered their artwork as croquis drawn on paper and documented the different stages of its realisation (see images hereafter)
They created four drawings with which they tried to present the two analogies of our scenario: two creations to prove the striking similarity between resemblance between the coronavirus and fake news, from the point of view of propagation through the production of copies and the possibility of mutations. And, two other works to explain the analogy established between the antiviral mechanisms observed in the society and the immune system of homo sapiens.
The drawings below as well as their 3D reproduction, show a first copy of the virus corresponding to the infox, which will attach to the membrane receptor of the first cell. The conditions of this cell can be transposed to those of a community of unconscious and naïve Internet users susceptible to infoxes. At their level, we witness a replication of the infox, with the possibility of production of different variants by mutation, for example, by deletion of an information sequence which is the equivalent of RNA in the coronavirus.
These viral copies produced in this first factory will attack other potential factories that have receptors for these viruses, where the replication phenomenon could continue until the organism is destroyed if the innate and adaptive defense systems are overwhelmed, or in the case of an immune dysfunction. This can be seen as a metaphor for the dysfunctions observed in societies without strong media institutions with integrity.
Works representing the analogy between coronavirus & infox
Fig1. Infocomics - Analogy between coronavirus & fake news
Fig2. Modèle 3D - Analogie entre le coronavirus & les fake new
Fake news around covid-19
The students saw the coronavirus and the infox as pathophysiological and cultural viral phenomena, thus establishing an analogy between the antiviral response of the immune system and that of society, with emphasis on the notion of negative feedback. They then recalled its origins: COVID-19, discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, eastern China, is also known as SARS-CoV-2. Its reproduction rates (R0) can vary from one population to another, depending on population density, susceptibility and other factors and variants are emerging.
The social media and the web have been awash with misinformation campaigns around Covid 19. Here the students recalled some of them. For instance, Bill Gates and his wife have been accused of conspiring to wipe off Africans by using Covid vaccines to instead inject electronic chips into people’s arms to control the African population growth. Some doctors have expressed skepticism in the various drugs and vaccines rolled out by western governments
Others have touted the virtues of traditional recipes and natural plants that are supposed to cure COVID-19 by strengthening and regulating the immune system response and treating the symptoms individually. Some Heads of States have even made statements to the effect that Covid either didn’t exist or couldn’t really kill their populations. This has resulted in many people especially from ethnic minorities being very wary of taking the vaccine jabs as they fear being used as guinea pigs by the West, based on past history (slavery and colonisation).
Cybernetics at work in Covid19 & Infox propagation
This exhibit sought to show how the propagation of (fake) news and conspiracy theories around Covid 19 can be explained by cybernetics and systemics theories and can be likened to the propagation and mutation of the covid virus itself.
The students explained that their artwork builds upon Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics (decidedly a favourite of my students!). Cybernetics highlighted two principles, namely; the self-adaptive and reflexive nature of living organisms and complex machines, and the importance of feedback in any complex system, as one of the mechanisms necessary to maintain equilibrium or homeostasis, knowing that feedback can be positive or negative. They focused on the notion of negative feedback, or the so-called “servomechanism”. This term, sometimes abbreviated to “servo”, is used to describe an automatic device that uses negative feedback, following the detection of an error, to correct it.
The notion of servomechanism is very general in scope, from anthropology to neurology, philosophy and even robotics. The focus of the students was of course on its application in social communication, following the spread of infox and in human physiology, and more precisely, by taking the example of the negative feedback mechanism of antiviral immunity.
By definition, a system is a set of elements that interact with each other according to certain principles or rules. This is the case of the immune system of homo sapiens and society, especially homo numericus. In fact, both are complex organisations, where the diversity and specificity of their different actors serve to optimise communication and cooperation between them, via signals, in order to preserve the integrity of the tissue. In the face of viral phenomena, both systems are mobilised to restore homeostasis.
During this health crisis, we witnessed several feedbacks, which can be tracked, especially in the digital world, through the hashtags of tweets by journalists and press releases and infographics published online by and infographics published online by associations and health authorities (WHO, ministries of health, etc.)
In the face of a viral infection, several immune mechanisms can be mobilised depending on the nature and tropism of the virus, in order to eliminate it and restore the normal physiological state.
For their project, the students were interested only in the humoral mechanism against the human coronavirus. This is a mechanism based on communication and cooperation between non-specific and specific immune cells, thanks to chemical signals (cytokines) to stimulate the differentiation of B lymphocytes (LBs) into plasma cells that secrete antibodies to neutralise the antibodies that neutralise the coronavirus and help to eliminate it from the human body.
What is really astonishing is that the analysis the students made on the coronavirus’s capacity to mutate and destroy the ecosystem it resides in and the analogy with infox was done in October 2020 before the world began hearing about the mutation of Covid19 variants which are more resistant to drugs (South African, the UK and Brazilian variants). They showed an almost prophetic foresighted in making highlighting this mutation and propagation aspects of biological cells and comparing it to the propagation and mutation of fake news on the Internet and the web
Works representing the analogy between the antiviral response of the immune system and society's response
Fig.3: Illustration - Analogy between the immune system's ant-viral response
The illustration shows the normal case, where a functional self-regulating system can be automatically mobilised, following a disorder of homeostasis, whether physiological or societal. In both cases, there is a negative feedback due to a process of communication and cooperation between the actors of the different lines:
First, there is communication between the cells of the innate immune system (viral antigen-presenting cells) and the cells of the adaptive immune system (naive B lymphocytes (LB) and T helper 2 lymphocytes (TH2)), and secondly, between naïve LBs and h2T cells, to stimulate the differentiation of naïve LBs into specific plasma cells, secreting neutralising antibodies and helping to eliminate the virus, and also into memory B lymphocytes. The latter recognise viral antigens on viruses they have already encountered, triggering a faster and more antiviral response compared to that of the first exposure.
Moreover, the same kind of actions can be observed on social networks: After being attacked by infoxes, conscious and active internet users or socionauts will express their anger and call for the intervention of the authorities and of private companies such as Twitter that collect and process alerts, then a cooperation between different authorities will be set up to give the green light to more specific bodies or organisations: those that disseminate the official information that is supposed to be truthful and those who issue sanctions, in order to create and preserve, among other things, a vivid and watertight collective memory against the integration of these infoxes in the future.
For the second 3D model (Fig.4) , we have chosen to simplify things even further, focusing only on the feedback loop, having as effectors, the antibody-producing plasma cells representing the competent authorities that impose sanctions. To visualise this phenomenon, they made use of dominoes to underline the mechanical effect which is just another term for the domino effect.
Fig. 4. Modèle 3D - Analogy between the antiviral response of the immune system & that of society