A BEHAVIOURAL science expert has said a viral Elon Musk tweet about America's top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci marks a step towards a situation where “any sort of democracy becomes impossible”. 

The richest man in the world said on social media that his pronouns were “Prosecute/Fauci”, alluding to the right-wing campaign to charge Fauci with crimes related to his involvement in US Covid-19 policies. 

Fauci, 81, is due to step down this month from his roles in government as Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, as well as director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. 

About an hour before posting the “pronoun” tweet, Musk also shared a meme with a caption that read in part, “just one more lockdown”.

This would appear to be criticism of the Covid mitigation measures which Musk has previously voiced his opposition to.

Behavioural scientist Professor Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews, who advised governments during the height of the pandemic, told The National the post was “dangerous on a number of levels”. 

“First of all, it is quite directly and simply encouraging the trolls, it’s giving support to haters and people who are wanting to blame and attack scientists”, he said. 

“I think what is just as serious and insidious is the way the debate around Covid has become polarised to the extent it leaves out the possibility of genuine debate for people who acknowledge that although we might differ, scientists don’t get it wrong because they’re trying to harm us. 

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“They’re acting out of goodwill based on their understanding of the evidence. We’ll get to the point you can’t debate with people who are trying to do their best in a difficult position. 

“Any sort of democracy becomes impossible because instead of listening to each other, we see anybody who disagrees with us as our enemy.”

Since acquiring the social media platform, Musk’s ownership of Twitter has come in for criticism. 

This particular tweet about Fauci faced backlash from the likes of vaccine scientist and author Peter Hotez, who called on Musk to delete the post and spoke of a "wave of aggression against the scientsists".

Hotez then shared a series of tweets of abuse which had been sent to him in the wake of Musk's tweet about Fauci. 

However Musk also received praise from right-wing corners including Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had been removed from Twitter over Covid misinformation but whose account was reinstated under Musk’s leadership. 

She tweeted: “I affirm your pronouns Elon.”

Reicher explained to The National how dangerous it can be for people in positions of power to spread this kind of information.

He said: “In many of these situations, what powerful people do is they open a door which others go through and go further, they legitimate those positions. 

“Once you label someone an enemy, it allows others to go further and think they are doing it for a cause.”

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Reicher sat on several advisory groups throughout the Covid pandemic, specifically looking into how people’s behaviour would have to change first to stop them from getting infected and, when the time came, to convince them to get vaccinated. 

He added: “I sat with a lot of people and we had robust discussions and through those it was clear the care and concern from scientists was palpable.

“Disagreement wasn’t something that tore us apart, in a strange way it brought us together because you saw how much people cared. 

“Most of us did it on top of our day jobs, you had people doing two or three jobs throughout the pandemic out of a genuine concern for people. 

Although Reicher expressed concerns about the spread of disinformation, he did add that it was important not to “over-dramatise”.

He explained that trust in scientists currently sits at around 80% whereas it is around 40% for business leaders. 

He explained: “At one level, I think what this comment does is harm Musk and undermine his credibility more than it does any harm to scientists. 

“People want to pursue particular agendas and say there is some establishment plot to try and control you but that is just nonsense.

“I think people are intelligent enough to understand that scientists are not perfect, but that we are better than asking somebody in the pub.