On November 22 2022, posts and tweets suddenly began to reference a new issue of a purported newspaper (the Irish Light), and its ominous-sounding “Died Suddenly” cover:
“Died Suddenly” was a phrase that trended in November 2022 on Twitter due to marketing efforts around the release of an independent anti-vaccine film of the same name. A November 2022 Indy100.com article noted that one of the subjects in footage from the video was in fact alive, and therefore, had not “died suddenly,” nor at all:
One part of the Died Suddenly movie showed a montage of people collapsing. One clip showed Florida Gators basketball player Keyontae Johnson collapsing on the court during a game on 12 December 2020.
Not only was Johnson’s collapse prior to when vaccines were available for his age group, but he is also unvaccinated and did not die in the incident. In fact, just last week, the basketball star was named “newcomer of the week” for his current basketball achievements.
Another tweet from earlier in November 2022 showed a separate cover for the Irish Light, this one in response to a tweet from @NBCNews. That tweet implied that the newspaper was a legitimate part of Ireland’s “free press”:
However, several elements of that cover hinted at the nature of the “newspaper.” Visible headlines included: “Schools ruining children’s minds,” “5G radiation: What you need to know,” and “The Government is coming for your home.”
Tweets suggested that many readers believed that the cover represented a credible news outlet from an “other” country:
“I would love to see newspapers from other countries. Make this a thing.”
“You can’t have other newspapers like that in America they’re all owned by the bad, corrupt people
Look and see who owns the Washington Post New York times LA times Chicago tribute,
Then you have your answer[.]”
However, others published tweets marking the Irish Light as a less-than-credible source, noting that it has a history of serving up disinformation and propaganda campaigns. On November 21 2022, @Care2much18 published a thread about the Irish Light, describing it as as an “anti-vax paper” and adding that it was “targeting bereaved [Gaelic Athletic Association] families:”
That thread covered mentioned common disinformation spreading tactics, such as misrepresenting images of private citizens (and padding numbers in order to bolster a nonexistent point):
That photo collage purports to show 42 young people who died in Ireland this year.
There’s enormous trickery and duplicity involved in this front page.
It’s a collage heavily padded out by multiple instances of using 2 photos of one person.
And hoping people won’t notice.
The thread correctly described one individual whose image was appropriated for the cover, explaining:
Damian Casey (circled), 29 years old, played hurling for Tyrone.
BBC News reported he died in a tragic swimming pool accident while on holiday in Spain.
Absolutely nothing to do with vaccines – just leave his family alone, anti-vaxxers.
Tyrone hurling star Damian Casey has died aged 29 following a tragic accident in a swimming pool in Spain on Friday.
Casey, who is regarded as one of the best Tyrone hurlers of all time, was in Spain for a wedding, which was due to take place on Saturday.
The Dungannon native has been playing for Tyrone since 2012 and recently scored 14 points in their 1-27 to 0-19 win over Roscommon in the Nicky Rackard Cup final in May.
A credible Irish news outlet also covered the topic of the Irish Light in August 2021. An article by the Irish Independent, “Anti-vaccine paper pushes ‘conspiracy propaganda,'” explained of the “newspaper”:
Former journalists turned Covid conspiracy theorists Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters have launched a newspaper with a strong anti-vaccine message.
The publication, The Irish Light, is edited by Ms O’Doherty, an anti-mask campaigner who previously worked for the Irish Independent.
Mr Waters, who previously worked for The Irish Times, features on the front page of the newspaper, which is being distributed free in small numbers nationwide.
It is published in conjunction with The Light paper in the UK and takes much of its content from it.
A spokesperson for the Far Right Observatory, which monitors information to combat hate movements in Ireland, described the publication as “conspiracy propaganda”.
“It primarily focuses on questioning the effectiveness of vaccines, questioning Covid and other far-right ideas. When we think of disinformation, we generally think of the digital sphere, so this is an interesting development,” the spokesperson said.
“This is an actual physical newspaper, though it is also circulating widely on the Telegram app and Facebook.”
Wikipedia also maintained an entry for the British variation of the “newspaper,” indicating that the publication’s primary purpose was to spread anti-vaccine propaganda. However, its scope predictably extended to antisemitism and Holocaust denial:
The Light is a self-published, monthly British conspiracy theory newspaper founded by Darren Nesbitt (frequently under the pseudonym Darren Smith) on 27 September 2020, which claims the COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax. The paper has a sister publication named The Irish Light.
The paper has been criticised for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. It regularly prints articles written by conspiracy theorist Vernon Coleman, and according to a review from Harvard Kennedy School “includes content that is aimed at prompting participation and activism amongst adherents of conspiracy theories, rather than simply presenting information”.
The company behind the paper was dissolved on 15 February 2021, despite this, it still continues to publish. The paper was free until June 2022, when that month’s edition introduced a charge of 50p, though the paper is still available for free digitally.
Several tweets and posts showed an issue of the Irish Light with a “Died Suddenly” cover, presumably related to a conspiracy film of the same name from November 2022. The Irish Light was not a real newspaper, nor was it an example of Ireland’s “free press,” but a “sister publication” to a “British conspiracy theory newspaper” founded in September 2020. In addition to medical disinformation, the publication promulgated antisemitic content and Holocaust denial.
Update, 6/12/2023, 8:53 AM (-bb): A BBC investigation has turned up evidence that the British Light (and, by extention, its “sister publication” in Ireland) is connected to German far-right publication Demokratischer Widerstand (Democratic Resistance):
The German paper refers to the Light as its “partner” paper and its “colleagues” at the British publication, describing how they’re “internationally connected”.
Two whistleblowers spoke to the BBC over concerns about how radical they say the German paper has become.
They say some of the Demokratischer Widerstand’s writers and a key donor to the paper met the Reichsburger group behind a failed coup attempt in Germany in December 2022.
One of the whistleblowers, lawyer Markus Heinz, who stopped writing for the paper in 2022, says the editor, Anselm Lenz, is an “extremist” which he defines as someone who “brings people in a position where they at least could think about getting violent”.
Mr Heinz also says members of the wider conspiracy theory movement in Germany have been offered money by Kremlin-linked figures to push disinformation.
The Light also has affiliated publications in Canada and Australia that traffic heavily on far-right conspiracy theories, up to and including antisemitism and Holocaust denial.