Defying rules, anti-vaccine accounts thrive on social media

by Emma

For years, the same platforms have allowed anti-vaccination propaganda to flourish, making it difficult to stamp out such sentiments now. And their efforts to weed out other types of COVID-19 misinformation — often with fact-checks, informational labels, and other restrained measures, has been woefully slow.

“While they fail to take action, lives are being lost,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a watchdog group. In December, the nonprofit found that 59 million accounts across social platforms follow peddlers of anti-vax propaganda — many of whom are immensely popular superspreaders of misinformation.

Efforts to crack down on vaccine misinformation now, though, are generating cries of censorship and prompting some posters to adopt sneaky tactics to avoid the ax.

social media

“It’s a hard situation because we have let this go for so long,” said Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies social media and health information. “People using social media have really been able to share what they want for nearly a decade.”

Of more than 15 pages identified by NewsGuard, a technology company that analyzes the credibility of websites, roughly half remain active on Facebook, the AP found.

One such page, The Truth About Cancer, has more than a million Facebook followers after years of posting baseless suggestions that vaccines could cause autism or damage children’s brains. The page was identified in November as a “COVID-19 vaccine misinformation super spreader” by NewsGuard.

Recently, the page stopped posting about vaccines and the coronavirus. It now directs people to sign up for its newsletter and visit its website as a way to avoid alleged “censorship.”

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