Story at a glance
- The anti-vaccine movement has a robust online presence on several social media platforms.
- While some media companies are making an effort to stop or slow the spread of misinformation regarding vaccines, the problem persists.
- Public health experts warn that vaccine misinformation threatens efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic.
After insisting for years that false claims about vaccines are better left up to be debunked, Facebook announced last month that it would remove misinformation about the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine, citing “imminent physical harm.”
More than a month later, anti-vaccine accounts are still spreading misinformation, according to one monitor, while others have merely moved on to another one of Zuckerberg’s social media platforms: Instagram.
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Just before Facebook’s announcement, NewsGuard catalogued 34 Facebook Pages they called “super-spreaders” of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, according to the monitor, two posts from one page were taken down — although the page itself remains active.
The anti-vaccination movement is a threat to coronavirus recovery efforts, according to the nation’s top public health officials, which depend on more than 70 percent of Americans getting inoculated against COVID-19. But even before a vaccine existed, people against vaccines — referred to as “anti-vaxxers” — were organizing against it.
“Anti-vaxxers have developed a sophisticated playbook for spreading uncertainty about a [COVID-19] vaccine, converting vaccine-hesitant people into committed antivaxxers, and resisting attempts to remove their misinformation,” concluded a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, noting a “master narrative” for the situation at hand. “[COVID-19] is not dangerous, the vaccine is dangerous and vaccine advocates cannot be trusted.”
Since 2019, major anti-vaccine accounts have amassed more than 10 million new followers, including 4 million additional followers on Instagram and 1 million on Facebook, according to the report. Other web platforms have found ways to keep this narrative from spreading, but only to a certain extent.
“The trick with vaccine hesitancy: it’s not always misinformation. It’s not always things that are demonstrably untrue. It’s stuff that makes you question and doubt,” Kolina Koltai, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, told The Guardian.
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