On May 17, 2023, a video about the potential threats of QR codes was published on Facebook. The video argues that the number of squares in the QR code and the satanic number 666 are connected. The video also features excerpts from two Russian-language programs (1,2). The first one concerned the innovations in the Transport system in Vitebsk, Belarus, where people are now able pay for transport through QR codes; The second program concerns Russia’s decision to create online ID cards with QR codes. An identical video was published on a Russian-language YouTube channel in 2021 as well.
The claim that QR codes are linked to the satanic number 666 is a conspiracy. The connection between QR and Barcodes with satanic numbers is not based on any evidence. The programs presented to prove the claim were used in manipulative ways and do not provide the full context.
What is a barcode?
The EAN-13 barcode system, which is being utilized in 85 nations, holds the distinction of being the most widely used product scanning system worldwide. This system operates by encoding numbers into a set of seven vertical lines. These lines, either black or white, create a distinct pattern that a computer can identify as a specific digit when scanned. Each product is allocated a distinctive 13-digit code, consisting of 10 digits for the product, a check digit, and a few characters denoting the organization responsible for assigning the number.
Restaurants now frequently display QR codes, providing customers with a convenient and speedy means to access menus. Invented by Masahiro Hara in 1994, QR codes are a two-dimensional variation of barcodes, offering enhanced capacity and dependability. Unlike traditional barcodes that encode approximately 20 digits, QR codes can accommodate 4,000 or more digits due to their grid of small black and white squares.
The added dimension of QR codes not only allows for storing more information but also enhances accuracy and reliability. These codes incorporate orientation information, enabling them to be scanned from any direction. Additionally, they employ error-correcting capabilities, ensuring that damaged codes can still be deciphered. To achieve this, Reed-Solomon error correction, developed by Irving S. Reed and Gustave Solomon, is utilized, employing advanced mathematical concepts such as polynomials over finite fields.
In simple terms, QR codes use a finite field with 256 elements, represented by 8 binary digits, to encode both the text and error-correcting information. When scanned, the binary digits are read in the correct order, any errors are corrected, and the message is recovered.
The conspiracy theories about the QR and Barcodes
Conspiracy theories surrounding QR codes and barcodes are not a recent phenomenon. When barcodes were introduced to streamline the tracking of products in stores using unique 12-digit numbers, a wave of protests emerged. An urban legend quickly spread, suggesting that each barcode concealed the Satanic number 666. The case was investigated by the fact-checking organization Snopes, which found no connection between QR codes and the number 666.
Contrary to popular belief, the number 666 does not appear in every barcode. This misconception arose because the symbol used to represent the number six bears a resemblance to the guard bars employed to indicate the beginning, middle, and end of each barcode.
The aforementioned conspiracy theory gained momentum during the Covid-19 pandemic, when contactless services were developed during the period of mass restrictions. Bars and restaurants have increasingly used QR codes for contactless transactions and online menu viewing. The development of this technology has also allowed businesses to integrate elements of analytics, monitoring and targeting into their operations. This trend has caused the increase in vulnerability to conspiracies among the population.
Russian-language programs are manipulated in the video
In the distributed video, we also find excerpts from two Russian-language programs, which are presented without context. The full version of the first program was published in February 2020 by the Belarusian TV company ONT News. The story was about the modernization of the transport system in Vitebsk and other cities of Belarus, saying that citizens would no longer have to buy traditional tickets and would be able to pay for transport by scanning a QR code. The second excerpt is taken from the Russian news program Vesti, where the host informs the audience about the new ID cards with QR codes. The authors of the video linked the excerpts to QR codes manipulatively and used them to amplify the conspiracy theory.
About the Source
The Facebook account “Bolo Zhamis Kristianebi” [Christians of the Last Advent] regularly spreads disinformation and conspiracy theories. The false information disseminated by the user has been repeatedly debunked by Myth Detector.
Myth Detector Laboratory
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