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Who is Spreading Misinformation About Covid Vaccines?

Health & Gender Policy Brief # 123 | By: S. Bhimji | Aug 9, 2021

Header photo taken from: US News

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Photo taken from: The New York Times

Policy Summary

While the internet has been a good thing, it also has one major negative; it has allowed everyone with a keyboard to become an author and publish whatever they want. Misinformation and fallacies permeate every single topic on the internet but none more so than the Covid vaccines. 

Major sources of misinformation are the Internet and social media, television, mainly in the form of Foxnews

For the past 12 months, the internet has been flooded with all types of conspiracy theories about the Covid vaccines and despite the huge number of online articles, it now appears that only a dozen or so individuals may be responsible for this misinformation according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

The CCDH, a combined UK/US non-profit organization, noted that about 12 online individuals with a combined following of 59 million people across many social media platforms have been responsible for the most disinformation.

The social media platform where the largest amount of misinformation occurs is Facebook. Analysis done by CCDH revealed that of the 800,000 Facebook posts on Covid, nearly two-thirds came from the ‘disinformation dozen.’ 

Even President Biden has been alarmed at the amount of vaccine misinformation and he has claimed that it is one of the driving forces behind the spread of the virus.

Close to 73% of all anti-vaccine content on Facebook is from the disinformation dozen, despite good evidence showing that the vaccines are effective and safe. And shockingly, the majority of misinformed Covid posts on some social media platforms are not removed.

Policy Analysis

Who are the ‘Disinformation Dozen?’

They include some healthcare workers who have embraced quackery and pseudoscience, a wellness blogger, a bodybuilder, a religious fanatic, and most notably the nephew of JFK, Robert F Kennedy Jr who has raged about how vaccines have led to high rates of autism. 

But perhaps the biggest source of misinformation is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Joseph Mercola. While he may not have the appeal of Dr. Oz, he still has considerable online influence in the world of alternative medical practice. Mercola is essentially an opportunist who knows how to promote his business. 

His musings revolve around the world of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and millions subscribe to his philosophy- the key reasons people embrace Mercola is because conventional medicine is not perfect, it is expensive and often fails to deliver; hence millions of Americans have now turned to alternative medicine for cures. And Dr. Mercola preys on them with false promises. What he does is refuse to accept most conventional medical treatments and then markets his own vitamins and minerals as a cure. 

Photo taken from: Daily Mail

And among the media, the biggest source of misinformation is Foxnews. For some unknown reasons, presenters on Foxnews have been saying that the vaccine drive is coercive and that it represents government over-each. To make matters worse, Fox reporters are frequently engaged in a policy to discredit the vaccine benefits and the bipartisan values of the democratic party.

So what have the social media platforms done?

Only in recent months have Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook started to clamp down on people who misinform the public about vaccines- but the fact is that all have been ineffective at removing the misinformation. None of these platforms consistently enforce their policies on misinformation, often citing freedom of speech.

And the Covid misinformation is not an American thing- it is a global phenomenon which the WHO has branded as an ‘infodemic.’

There is an abundance of conspiracy theories online linked to covid-19, the majority of which manipulate the emotions of the reader. Plus the pandemic has created an opportunity for scammers who offer almost everything under the sun as a remedy against the virus; unfortunately, many people buy into these theories and purchase products that have zero medicinal value. 

Besides the homegrown ‘dozen’ who spread misinformation, China, Russia, and Iran continue to spread even bigger lies. China recently stated that the Covid pandemic started in the USA and the American military personnel helped spread it across geographical borders.

Photo taken from: World Health Organization 

Finally, there are the celebrities who also put out a great deal of misinformation. While they have the right to refuse vaccines, they often spread their false beliefs to others. And because celebrities are worshiped in America, thousands of people believe every word they say. 

For the public, the best way to avoid Covid misinformation is to consider the source of information and use caution when reading posts on social media.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

Covid19misinfo. 

https://covid19misinfo.org/

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