Dr Disrespect's Shtick Takes A Dangerous Turn Into Spreading Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories

Image: Dr Disrespect

During a stream today, Guy “Dr Disrespect” Beahm, whose 4 million followers make him one of the most popular streamers on Twitch, shared two pieces of widely debunked coronavirus-related media with his viewers. Many viewers reacted with shock and disappointment. Others cheered him on. He never dropped his facade—never removed his trademark wig or sunglasses—but he seemed quite serious.

Dr Disrespect, who I’m beginning to suspect might not be a licensed medical professional after all, decided to voice his thoughts and feelings about the virus that has so far taken over 65,000 lives in the U.S. alone. He did this as an expression of solidarity with Elon Musk, who has spent the past week e-cosplaying as the wrong character from Deus Ex while arguing for an end to self-isolation and propping up the views of known conspiracy hucksters. But Doc ended up going much further than the billionaire.

First, Dr Disrespect read an article from The Hill, which Musk had retweeted, titled “The data is in—stop the panic and end total isolation.” This article, published to the site’s opinion section, draws many of its conclusions from a Stanford University study that suggested a much lower death rate than what is widely believed, but that came under immediate fire from scientists for failing to account for false positives in testing and questionable patient recruitment methods.

The piece also leans heavily into the idea of “herd immunity,” neglecting to mention the fact that scientists do not know for sure if prior covid-19 infection confers immunity nor how long that immunity would last. Generally, herd immunity requires a vaccine to be a truly definitive solution; otherwise there remains a risk of widespread reinfection. A vaccine is something we do not yet have and are potentially a long ways off from having. Despite all of this, people have argued that the author of the Hill opinion piece, Dr. Scott Atlas, is an authoritative source because he is a doctor. However, his background is in neuroradiology—not virology or epidemiology—and he’s a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank that’s previously pushed sketchy coronavirus pseudoscience and characterised shutdown and isolation measures as an “overreaction.”

Nonetheless, Dr Disrespect reached the end of the piece and gave it his seal of approval. “Agreed,” he said. “Facts matter. Thank you, Scott.”

While reading through this article, he also highlighted a graph suggesting that some hospitals aren’t actually suffering from overcrowding. This drew quite a response from his chat, with viewers frantically typing that some hospitals only have capacity because social-distancing efforts are working. In general, chat was animated throughout. Many were incredulous at what Doc was implicitly endorsing.

“My grandpa died of this shit. Do you have a degree in virology? Speak what you know,” said one viewer. Others implored Doc to Google the Stanford study and read about how scientists had largely debunked it. But others cheered him on, praising him for pushing back against “the liberal establishment.”

Then Doc moved on to an even less credible piece of media: a viral video in which a doctor named Thomas Cowan, who is on disciplinary probation enforced by the Medical Board of California, makes the widely debunked claim that 5G cellular technology causes covid-19. Doc did not openly agree with the video, instead saying, “I’m gonna show something that is not directly related to what I just talked about. Something else, this what I’m about to show you, along with what I just read, combining the two together—that’s what gets me upset.”

There’s no need to take a point-by-point approach to that video’s many falsehoods. Cowan iterates on long-running conspiracy theories about electricity and viral illnesses that stand up to scientific scrutiny like a paper bag in a wind turbine. For example, he suggests that radio waves caused the 1918 Spanish flu, when the first commercial radio station began broadcasting in 1920. Things only go downhill from there. Despite the absurdity of it all, many people now believe that 5G causes illness, an idea that’s existed among anti-vaxxers and Alex Jones types since before the covid-19 crisis.

The ridiculous conspiracy video left Doc’s viewers even more dumbfounded than before, and they largely pushed back in chat. Some, however, voiced support, with a few name-dropping figures like Donald Trump and the eponymous Q of QAnon conspiracy theory infamy. Dr Disrespect did little to dissuade these people, chalking up elements of the lockdown to vague “agendas” that “we’ll just never be able to know or understand or get the true information from.” One viewer donated $US3 ($5), prompting Doc to read their message aloud; the viewer said they were disappointed in the streamer and cited the virus’ United States death toll of over 60,000. “I’m aware, but thank you for the $US3 ($5) donation,” Doc replied. Another donated $US15 ($23) and praised him for the “balls” it took to say what he did about coronavirus.

Dr Disrespect ended the segment by imploring viewers to consider what he’d shown them.

“All’s I’m saying is that, me being about to talk about that, read that stuff, let’s just not be robots and say, ‘Yes sir, we will do everything you tell us to do, government, sir.’ Let’s listen to the experts and... I don’t know. Again, I gotta bite my tongue,” he said, later adding that his intention was to “get the brain kinda going.” He also clarified that he wants people to resume working because he keeps receiving donations from viewers who say they’ve lost their jobs. “It sucks, you know,” he said.

Perhaps Dr Disrespect was just trying to get people to think, but he used two very specific, conspiracy-minded examples and zero others. He’d also just stated that he agreed with Musk and would like to see America “open the gates back up.” In other words, he made his leanings clear. Moreover, he did this seemingly without vetting his sources of information, eliciting protest from many of his viewers. If we’re reading this whole moment as charitably as possible, it was, at the very least, hugely irresponsible on Doc’s part.

But it’s not surprising that he chose to do it. Time and time again, he’s acted with reckless irresponsibility while streaming, only to briefly lose his platform or not lose it at all, then reach even greater heights of success. He cheated on his wife and returned to a viewership record. He’s used racist accents on stream and faced no consequences at all. He streamed from a public bathroom during E3 and got booted from the convention, only to get his channel reinstated after just a couple weeks. He constantly walks a line between comedy and outright toxicity, never very carefully. Despite all this, he remains one of Twitch’s most-promoted faces, with numerous brand deals under his belt. At the end of last year, he even signed a TV development deal with Skybound Entertainment, the production company headed up by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.

In large part, this is all possible because of Dr Disrespect’s shtick. He’s almost always in character, and his character is rude and loud—a toxic gamer stereotype turned up to 11. It’s all just one big meme, y’all, so calm down. He doesn’t actually mean any of this stuff, except when he does, but he retroactively gets to decide when he does and when he doesn’t. As a consequence of this, the rules never fully apply to him, and when they do, who cares? Being shameless is part of his brand. It’s no wonder, then, that he decided to casually trot out a procession of coronavirus conspiracy theories. If history is anything to go on, he probably won’t face consequences (Kotaku reached out to Twitch and Dr Disrespect, but did not receive a reply as of this publishing). If he does, he can say he was just messing around, apologise on behalf of The Dr Disrespect Brand, and be on his merry way.

But there’s a nasty side effect to that approach: After a certain point, nobody can tell if you’re actually kidding or not. Already, some on Twitter are suggesting that Doc was just having a laugh today, despite the fact that he never said or implied anything to that effect. That makes his excursion into Infowars-lite territory doubly troubling. Many can tune into a broadcast like that, think, “that’s just Doc being a wacky edgelord again,” and then tune out. But others don’t know him that well, or they aren’t equipped with the same critical faculties. At no point did Dr Disrespect say he was kidding or otherwise signal that he was not 100 per cent serious. It stands to reason, then, that some people might come away from such a broadcast thinking “This person I admire seems to believe these things. Maybe I should, too.” Or maybe they’re already on the fence, and they just needed a beloved public figure to push them over.

To wit, before his guided field trip down conspiracy alley, Dr Disrespect himself said that he was already most of the way there when it came to believing that it’s time to reopen America, but Elon Musk emboldened him.

“I don’t need Elon to convince me,” he said just before he decided to take everybody down the rabbit hole. “But to have someone of his magnitude and his expertise—it’s pretty clear that he gets it in terms of humanity and where we’re trying to go... I’m on board with his type of thinking.”


Comments

    Shock horror that a schmuck based on being a toxic gronk is also an intellectual one.

    Last edited 02/05/20 1:19 pm

    Why are you reporting about this moron? The less said, the better.

      Nathan is still mad after after the doc mocked him on Twitter.

        The old Grayson personal vendetta blogging at it again.

          The old Grayson personal vendetta

          Seems to me like that dude is the subject of a lot of vendettas. djbear felt the need to post his angle twice. And you know. Gamergate.

          Lots of vendettas here. A whole mess of them.

        How are you defending the complete shitkicker in this scenario, though? Dr D is an absolute piece of shit.

          The same reason i don't go an beat the shit out of Jack Gleeson. I realise he is playing a character and is not the character.

          Clearly that is beyond you.

        Omg, that's absolute genius, what a discovery! A foolproof way to shut down criticism permanently!

        1. Be a toxic asshole saying and doing things that you shouldn't either because you are into them or just for a lark.
        2. Receive expected and warranted criticism.
        3. Meme, ridicule or block your critics in social media.
        4. ???
        5. Profit! Future criticism all can be chalked down to "butthurt". Now you can double down on being a toxic asshole and your followers can absolutely relinquish any critical thinking being busy laughing at those delicate snowflakes. They will shower you with money in gratitude for letting them feel so edgy.

      Probably because he is enormously popular on Twitch for playing games and this is a game news website. This is pretty well-researched and informative for people who are interested in video games but don't read much else, so could be easily convinced by this dope.

    Dr. Disrespect is a character. A product for consuming FPS streams. Not much more. I don't hold Guy Beahm responsible for misinformation, regardless of if you ascribe these ideas to the character or the actor.

    Honestly still find it funny that any news media is throwing stones about Covid theories. They uh don't have the best record for accuracy even if they do have a decent reputation.

    Soo... a guy who's sctick is to act like an idiot to the point of parody as his online persona chooses to pick stupid conspiracy theories and "believes and says they're plausible"

    And we are saying someone will take his words seriously?

    The fact this article exists to warn us about a parody character being taken seriously is just or the fact people are considering it serious is..... *facepalm*

      This article exists because Nathan is still tilted after being mocked by the doc on twitter. Nathan is making a vain attempt to deplatform him. Dont be like Nathan.

        If by "deplatform" you mean you shouldnt be taking the conspiracy stuff he is saying in character as Dr Disrespect as something serious to be considered then yes i guess you can say I am deplatforming him somewhat..

        If you however mean that doing something like this as an in character parody as part of his character schtick is something "irresponsible and should be stopped" i think you may have misunderstood me.. I have nothing against him doing this as in character. If someone takes a really obvious in chracter parody characters word as "serious" thats on the individual in my books for being unable to tell the difference between parody and actual advise.

          Oh, i wasn't directing the latter part of my comment towards you directly. More just referencing a meme.

          Apologies for the confusion :)

          Is it parody, though? Just doing something as a silly character doesn't make it parody. Is he doing it in some way which ridicules the idea? Is there irony? How is it a parody?

      You should do some basic psychology and sociology.

      People can and will believe it purely because he says it.

      Just like you take information at face value from someone you trust without any critical thought.

      It's a basic human behaviour.

      That's why public faces have a responsibility to be careful with what they say and present. Parody only works when it is an actual parody. Onion articles getting Retweeted by right wing nutters is not the same as someone reading real conspiracy nonsense and then supporting it.

      So every single of his followers is clued to this parody, you mean? They take a look at his antics and at the end, they go "ah, that Dr, always showing us the correct path by intently acting the opposite. I will now go and do exactly the opposite of what he says"? All of them? Including the massive percentage of teenagers watching him?

        The character Dr Disrespect is played to be an over the top character on his streams and blogs. Now if the "massive amount of teenagers" who have been watching him all this time take his words seriously whilst he is in character... that says more about the parents, their political leanings and the level of each teenager's capacity to think for themselves.

        Also your hitting hyperbole by insinuating that "dr disrespect is parody therefore always do the opposite" is what I was getting at. My point is any person with an ounce of analytical capacity who sees a character that is never meant to be taken seriously should be able to excercise his/her judgement to literally not take it seriously.

        Perhaps I should have used the word caricature instead of parody to decribe the whole Dr Disrespect act?

          Yeah, I imagine that caricature is a better word. My problem is that this was not the "Dr" doing some silly escapade while shouting atop of his lungs frivolous stuff. It was he, addressing the camera with a serious tone, talking about a serious issue. Cartoons used to do that all the time back in the day, with the characters breaking a bit from script to deliver important messages. This is because the creators understood that even if the characters were silly, or unrealistic, the audience that tunes to them has some level of empathy and trust for them.

          So really, when good uncle Dr who makes you laugh so much tells you that the way to act in middle of a deadly disease is these and that... don't you think that at least some of his followers will take it to heart? Just look at the kind of approving comments he got. People were agreeing with him to "stick it up" to other people.

    Why would you even allow such a useless piece of opinion based 'journalism' to be published? This is just utter nonsense

    Dr Disrespect is being a piece of shit again. Must be any given day.

    I wonder if his donations have been decreasing over the last few weeks/months?

    This is a very important article, as anyone in a position of influence spreading pseudoscience and misinformation is dangerous, regardless of if it was "in character" or not. Its this kind of behaviour that causes people to drink bleech as a cure or shoot at 5G towers.

    People trust people who have a position of influence, regardless of their actual scientific credentials. That's why skin care products that are sold by celebrities sell better than those who are not endorsed.

    Nothing is likely to happen to Dr. Disrespect, he will continue to spread misinformation and that's precisely why we are in this mess in the first place.

    I look forward to The Doc and Elon getting COVID and then wanting help from science and the medical fraternity.

    But others cheered him on, praising him for pushing back against “the liberal establishment.”

    It's absolutely disgusting how the conservatives in America have successfully made of a global pandemic a political talking point they have their drones repeating mindlessly against their own interests.

      To be perfectly frank until you get a proper middle ground style politics this is going to continually happen the whole us vs them style politics means that the most polarising is usually the most heard and followed.

      Heck just look at the fact within the span of less than a decade the whole world agreed that we needed to do more about the environmenf to a "debate" about how humans only have minimal impact and its all "natural"

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