March 25, 2021 -- About two-thirds of anti-vaccine content on major social media sites is tied to 12 prominent anti-vaccine leaders, according to a new report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch.
The report calls on social media platforms to take action against the “disinformation dozen” during the ongoing vaccine.
“Disinformation has become a direct threat to public health,” Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said in a statement.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, the Anti-Vaccine Industry has executed a targeted campaign to mislead Americans about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines,” he said. “Social media is enabling anti-vaxxers to recruit millions of Americans and indoctrinate them with fear and doubt.”
The Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch analyzed a sample of anti-vaccine content that had been shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter more than 812,000 times between Feb. 1 and March 16, 2021. They found that 65% of the content came from 12 accounts.
The “Disinformation Dozen” is made up of Ty and Charlene Bollinger, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Joseph Mercola, Sherri Tenpenny, Rizza Islam, Rashid Buttar, Erin Elizabeth, Sayer Ji, Kelly Brogan, Christiane Northrup, Ben Tapper, and Kevin Jenkins. The report includes information about their activity status on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as examples of their anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation posts during the past year.
The accounts have repeatedly violated Facebook and Twitter terms of service agreements, according to the report, but the majority of the information remains on social media sites despite recent pledges to remove vaccine disinformation.
Facebook has “already taken action against some of the groups in this report,” Kevin McAlister, a Facebook spokesperson, told The Hill.
“Since research shows that the best way to combat vaccine hesitancy is to connect people to reliable information from health experts, we’ve also connected over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities, including through our COVID-19 Information Center,” he said.
Even still, Ahmed called on Facebook, Twitter, and Google to follow through on their commitments. The CEOs of all three platforms -- Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter -- will appear before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday for a hearing on the role of social media in promoting extremism and misinformation.
“Members of the committee must use this opportunity to hold these companies accountable and urge them to follow through with their commitments to crack down on life-threatening disinformation,” Ahmed said. “A clear and immediate way to stop the spread of anti-vaccine messages is to remove the Disinformation Dozen from their platforms.”
The report also outlines steps that social media platforms can take to lessen misinformation in users’ feeds, such as establishing a clear threshold for enforcement action, displaying corrective posts, adding warning screens when users click links to misinformation sites, and banning private and secret anti-vaccine groups.