Report: Most anti-vaccine misinformation on social media linked to 12 individuals

CCDH in its report is urging social media companies to deplatform the Disinformation Dozen to stop dissemination of harmful misinformation. — RONNIE CHIN/The Star

A report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), an international non-profit NGO aiming to dismantle the architecture of online hate and misinformation, has identified a dozen individuals who “appeared to be extremely influential creators of digital anti-vaccine content”.

The report’s analysis of a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between Feb 1 and March 16, 2021 showed that 65% of anti-vaccine content is attributable to the 12 individuals that it referred to as the Disinformation Dozen, according to CCDH.

“According to our recent report, anti-vaccine activists on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter reach more than 59 million followers, making these the largest and most important social media platforms for anti-vaxxers,” said CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed.

Further analysis of anti-vaccine content that has been posted over 689,000 times on Facebook in the past two months showed that 73% of it originated from the Disinformation Dozen, the NGO claimed.

The Disinformation Dozen report named the likes of entrepreneur Joseph Mercola, author Robert F. Kennedy Jr and chiropractor Ben Tapper, among others, with examples of the Covid-19 misinformation that they shared on various social media platforms.

Mercola for instance has shared his opinions on unproven Covid-19 cures in various anti-vaccine Facebook Groups, with one example – an article expounding on claims that “hydrogen peroxide treatment can successfully treat most viral respiratory illnesses, including coronavirus” – getting 4,600 shares on Facebook, according to CCDH’s report.

It also highlighted how Kennedy Jr often promoted misinformation by unverified sources linking Covid-19 vaccines to death, as well as misinformation about Covid vaccines posing a threat to pregnant women.

The report also noted that Kennedy and his organisation Children’s Health Defense released a film in mid-March targeting members of the Black and Latino communities with tailored anti-vaccine messages, adding that both Facebook and Twitter continue to allow him a platform to promote these false claims.

CCDH in its report criticised the social media companies for failing to stem the tide of misinformation: “Facebook, Google and Twitter have put policies into place to prevent the spread of vaccine misinformation; yet to date, all have failed to satisfactorily enforce those policies.

”All have been particularly ineffective at removing harmful and dangerous misinformation about coronavirus vaccines, though the scale of misinformation on Facebook, and thus the impact of their failure, is larger,” said Ahmed.

The NGO also urged social media companies to deplatform the Disinformation Dozen, along with the key organisations linked to the 12 individuals, to stop the dissemination of misinformation.

“Despite repeatedly violating Facebook, Instagram and Twitter’s terms of service agreements, nine of the Disinformation Dozen remain on all three platforms, while just three have been comprehensively removed from just one platform,” the report added.

Facebook has disputed CCDH’s methodology in a statement to Engadget, saying that it has “taken action against some of the groups” in the report.

Meanwhile Twitter said it has removed more than 22,400 tweets and challenged 11.7 million accounts worldwide since introducing its Covid-19 guidelines last year.

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