Misinformation and skeptical opinions about Covid-19 and vaccines have been allowed to spread across more than a dozen Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages and groups which together have gained 370,000 subscribers in the past year , according to a report.
Misinformation and promotion of vaccine reluctance includes posts in Facebook groups claiming children are “murdered by the experimental jab they are forced to take,” and an Instagram account promoting a documentary of Andrew Wakefield, one of the key figures promoting the discredited links between MMR inoculation and autism.
All 20 accounts, pages, and groups were tracked by NewsGuard, an organization that monitors disinformation online. Since September of last year, NewsGuard has submitted regular reports to the World Health Organization, at the request of the WHO, flagging social media sites and other digital platforms that are spreading lies about Covid-19.
In a study released Tuesday, NewsGuard said 20 of the sites it monitored during that period gained a total of 372,670 subscribers. A full report containing the research has been sent to WHO.
NewsGuard research points to important sources of vaccine skepticism, such as the Facebook pages of Robert F Kennedy Jr, a prominent anti-vaccine, and Joseph Mercola, an alternative medicine physician, as well as sources more small such as the France Soir account on Instagram.
Kennedy was banned from Instagram for his stance on the vaccine in February, but his Facebook page and Mercola’s Instagram account have gained more than 140,000 followers since February, according to NewsGuard. Mercola said he had “the right to inform the public by sharing my medical research”.
Facebook came under pressure to ban Kennedy, the nephew of President John F Kennedy, in March when it released a documentary, Medical Racism, which was accused of seeking to promote vaccine reluctance among black Americans. Kennedy said the film “empowers all Americans to demand the safest vaccines.”
Facebook and Instagram are both owned by Meta, the company which, until a rebranding last week, was known as Facebook.
Alex Cardier, UK chief executive of NewsGuard, said Facebook and Instagram fail to protect their users from Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation despite being warned “repeatedly”.
He said, “The company’s mantra of no-cost engagement means that viral and conflicting sources of disinformation continue to thrive, despite NewsGuard’s warnings and the obvious danger posed to users. Facebook has given itself a new name but their promotion of disinformation remains the same.
A spokesperson for Meta said the company is encouraging users of its platforms to get vaccinated and is taking action against misinformation. “During the pandemic, we removed over 20 million harmful misinformation and removed content identified in this report that violates our rules. In total, we have now banned over 3,000 accounts, pages and groups for repeatedly breaking our rules. We also label all vaccine posts with accurate information and have worked with independent fact checkers to mark 190 million posts as bogus. “
In order to reassure users about the efficacy of vaccines, several of the Facebook pages highlighted by NewsGuard contained Facebook tags directing users to a WHO vaccine page or the Covid-19 information center’s own page. of the company.
Meta announced last week that it is stepping up efforts to promote childhood immunization efforts on its apps.