I listened with interest to an interview on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this week which was captioned “I lost my husband to Covid-19 conspiracy theories.” The interviewee ‘Anna’ spoke about the impact that technology and the online world had had on the breakdown in her marriage and divorce. She had reached out to the program out of concern about what the wider consequences could be of the increase in misinformation and conspiracy theories.
It was clear that the circumstances which had caused the breakdown of her marriage were continuing to have a significant impact on Anna and their children, particularly in terms of co-parenting decisions regarding the children’s health.
We have blogged earlier in the year about circumstances where separated parents have differing views on Covid-19 vaccinations and there are a number of situations where the exercise of parental responsibility highlights a difference of opinion between parents (e.g. religion or schooling
However, what really struck me about the way in which Anna described her circumstances was about how her husband’s behaviour had contributed to their divorce. She described how her husband became immersed in an online world, watching video clips that were feeding his way of thinking. She specifically picked up on how the algorithms deciding which content was displayed to her husband had played a significant role in his access to misinformation and how this brought about such a significant level of distrust – particularly of her.
Technology plays a fundamental role in most people’s lives; and it will not therefore be surprising for it to also feature as a cause of relationship breakdown. For a number of years, there has been the spectre of websites such as Friends Reunited or Facebook potentially providing a stepping stone to infidelity – or even ‘dating’ sites specifically targeted at married people. But what Anna spoke about was a situation where the information her husband accessed and the way in which he was able to access it, had a fundamental impact on his core beliefs.
From an objective perspective, most people would hope that after a 15 year marriage, there would be the opportunity to discuss beliefs and to reflect as a couple; and to find a mutually-respectful way forward, even if the couple did not agree on a particular issue. However, from Anna’s description of her situation, I got a lasting impression of the way in which the aggressive pushing of the misinformation, and the way in which it was framed, had so quickly caused her husband to hold such an entrenched view that the opportunity for conversation was lost.
As a family law solicitor, I often reflect on all of the different reasons as to why a marriage may breakdown. When I think about Anna’s situation, my first impression is the impact of the speed of change and the (irrational) strength of feeling involved. In many circumstances, the opportunity for easy access to online information can be empowering. However, the danger lies in the opportunity for targeted marketing and pushing content which plays on insecurities and anxieties. Whatever the actual content, it is clear that the way in which (mis)information is shared online has the potential for a level of intensity that can have significant impact on personal relationships.