Around two-third of anti-vaccine content circulated on Facebook and Twitter can be traced back to just 12 prominent individuals, a new report has found.
The Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Anti-Vax Watch alliance analysed anti-vaxxer content that had been shared or posted more than 812,000 times on the social media platforms between 1 February and 16 March.
Up to 65 per cent of the content was attributable to 12 people, including noted anti-vaxx campaigner Robert F Kennedy Jr, son of former US attorney general Robert Kennedy.
Joseph Mercola, an alternative medicine entrepreneur with more than 3.6m followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram who has been warned by the US Food and Drug Administration to stop selling supplements that claimed to treat Covid-19, was identified as the most prominent spreader of anti-vaxx disinformation in the sample.
Ty and Charlene Bollinger, anti-vaxxer entrepreneurs who have promoted the false theory that Bill Gates plans to inject humans with microchips in Covid-19 vaccines, mask-sceptic physician Sherri Tenpenny and conspiracy theorist and influencer Rizza Islam also appear on the list.
The disinformation dozen
- 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 Jenkin
Of the 12 most prominent anti-vaxx spreaders, dubbed the ‘disinformation dozen’, nine are still active on all three Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms, while just three have been prevented from using one of the three, the CCDH claimed.
Analysis of anti-vaxx content posted to Facebook more than 689,000 times over the past two months found that 73 per cent of circulated content can be traced back to the disinformation dozen, while around 17 per cent of 120,000 anti-vaxx tweets could be attributed to the same people.
The CCDH is calling on social media platforms to remove the most prominent known anti-vaxxers from their sites to dramatically reduce the amount of disinformation being produced and circulated.
“Disinformation has become a direct threat to public health,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of CCDH.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, the anti-vaccine industry has executed a targeted campaign to mislead the public about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines.
“Social media is enabling anti-vaxxers to recruit millions of people and indoctrinate them with fear and doubt. If Big Tech companies don’t act now, the pandemic will be prolonged, and more lives will be lost.”
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have been contacted for comment.