A new report has claimed that the vast majority of anti-vaccine information found on social media originated from just 13 people.
The report – which was compiled by an NGO called the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Anti-Vax Watch – called on Facebook and Twitter to act against the responsible individuals.
The group of 13 users spread out across 12 accounts on these platforms were identified as extremely influential creators of digital anti-vaccine content, and dubbed the “Disinformation Dozen”.
“These individuals were selected either because they run anti-vaccine social media accounts with large numbers of followers, because they produce high volumes of anti-vaccine content or because their growth was accelerating rapidly at the outset of our research in February,” the report stated.
The researchers claimed an analysis of a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times revealed that 65% of anti-vaccine content came from the Disinformation Dozen.
Of the anti-vaccine content posted over 689,000 times on Facebook in particular in the last two months, 73% originated with members of the Disinformation Dozen.
On Twitter, their impact was less profound, with up to 17% of 120,000 vaccine tweets collected in the last two months traced back to the group.
“This shows that while many people might spread anti-vaccine content on social media platforms, the content they share often comes from a much more limited range of sources,” the report claimed.
“Exposure to even a small amount of online vaccine misinformation has been shown by the Vaccine Confidence Project to reduce the number of people willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine by up to 8.8%,” it added.
Little action taken
The report further claimed that despite these users repeatedly violating Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter’s terms of service, most of their accounts remained active.
It called on these companies to follow through on repeated promises of action against COVID-19-related misinformation by blocking the accounts of the Disinformation Dozen.
“The public cannot make informed decisions about their health when they are constantly inundated by disinformation and false content,” the report said.
Facebook, however, has questioned the methodology of the research and said it had already taken action against some of the groups named.
“Working with leading health organisations, we’ve updated our policies to take action against accounts that break our COVID-19 and vaccine rules – including by reducing their distribution or removing them from our platform,” Facebook spokesperson Kevin McAlister stated.
“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 two billion people to resources from health authorities, including through our COVID-19 Information Centre,” he added.
Twitter said it would not take action on every instance of misinformation but does removes tweets which it deemed likely to cause “serious harm.”
“Since introducing our COVID-19 guidance last year, we have removed more than 22,400 tweets and challenged 11.7 million accounts worldwide,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
The Disinformation Dozen named in the report comprised the following persons:
- Joseph Mercola
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
- Ty and Charlene Bollinger
- Sherri Tenpenny
- Rizza Islam
- Rashid Buttar
- Erin Elizabeth
- Sayer Ji
- Kelly Brogan
- Christiane Northrup
- Ben Tapper
- Kevin Jenkins