- The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a fresh wave of online conspiracy theories around fears of a future 'cashless society'.
- Cashless payments more than tripled in the US between March and April – accounting for 8% to 31% of all transactions. It fell to account for 20% of transactions in June.
- One social media post claiming the decline in cash payments has "nothing to do with the virus" has been repeatedly shared on Facebook and Twitter, potentially reaching millions of users.
- Social media expert Tristan Hotham told Business Insider such conspiracies consist in a "grey area [that risks] sending users down the rabbit hole".
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a fresh wave of online conspiracy theories around fears of a future "cashless society."
Cashless transactions have spiked amid the pandemic, according to research from payments firm Square, more than tripling between March and April in the US – from 8% to 31% of all payments – before leveling off at 20% in June.
Earlier in July, Mississippi resident Wendy Singleton shared a lengthy post on Facebook, claiming to outline what "NO CASH ACTUALLY MEANS" for wider society.
The 700-word post – which has so far been shared 344,000 times – claims there will be "no more money in birthday cards … no more charity collections … banks [will] have full control of every single penny you own [and] the government will decide what you can and cannot purchase".
Prior to Singleton's own version of the post, it had previously been reposted on Twitter by a user named Louise Fallon, where it received 18,000 retweets and 56,000 likes, and before that by Colorado resident David Tweedy, again on Facebook, where it received 219,000 shares.
It reads: "If you are a customer, pay with cash. If you are a shop owner, remove those ridiculous signs that ask people to pay by card … Banks are making it increasingly difficult to lodge cash [and] that has nothing to do with a virus…
"Politics [and] greed is what is wrong with the world, not those who are trying to alert you to the reality in which you are blindly floating along whilst being immobilised by irrational fear."
The World Health Organization was forced to clarify its position on cash payments in March, claiming British media reports had misrepresented its position on the issue. The Daily Telegraph, a British broadsheet, previously cited the WHO in an article suggesting dirty bank notes could be spreading the coronavirus.
But a WHO spokesperson told MarketWatch the organization's guidance had been "misrepresented" in news articles suggesting bank notes could spread COVID-19, adding: "We said you should wash your hands after handling money, especially if handling or eating food."
The idea of a "cashless society" has been in circulation for decades, with Sweden among those regularly touted as most likely the first nation to do away with bank notes altogether.
Even so, there remains a host of pros (speedy transactions, better economic data, reduced business risks) and cons (limited privacy, centralized control, digital fraud) which remain hotly debated.
Tristan Hotham, founder of the Social Media Research Centre, told Business Insider conspiracies such as these "thrive" through their combination of truth and fake information.
"We have known for a long time that society as a whole could eventually operate without physical cash," he said. "But these kinds of conspiracies gain traction by mixing that with total nonsense."
As the pandemic swept the planet, social media platforms have taken steps to counter misinformation around COVID-19, fearing the immediate consequences of letting conspiracies circulate unchallenged.
Hotham said: "It's interesting because, while this does make reference to the pandemic, it's sort of in that grey area, where it might not immediately put anyone in danger, in the way that anti-mask posts do.
"But it could certainly send someone down the rabbit hole."
Source: Read Full Article