Startling research has revealed that only a dozen people are responsible for most of the hoaxes and lies about Covid-19 vaccines on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Yet social media companies have failed to adequately police the dangerous misinformation and its spreaders, according to the organisation that listed what it called the “Disinformation Dozen.”
The misinformation super-spreaders are continuing to fuel vaccine reluctance among millions of people, which threatens to become a major hurdle to conquering the pandemic.
The report, released in March, noted that “living in full view of the public on the internet are a small group of individuals who do not have relevant medical expertise and have their own pockets to line, who are abusing social media platforms to misrepresent the threat of Covid and spread misinformation about the safety of vaccines.”
“Anti-vaccine activists on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter reach more than 59 million followers, making these the largest and most important social media platforms for anti-vaxxers,” it added.
Particularly troubling, the anti-vaxxers are using these social media platforms to specifically “target Black Americans, exploiting higher rates of vaccine hesitancy in that community, to spread conspiracies and lies about the safety of Covid vaccines,” the report said.
The disinformation peddlers are anti-vaccine advocates, alternative health entrepreneurs and physicians, some of whom run multiple accounts across the platforms and profit by selling supplements and books.
Among the 12 named in the report are Joseph Mercola, who sells dietary supplements, and his business partner Erin Elizabeth, who runs an alternative-health website. Also listed is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the late US Senator Robert F. Kennedy and chairman of Children’s Health Defense, a US anti-vaccine group.
In a follow-up report on Thursday, the organisation called on social media platforms to take more decisive action to eradicate dangerous misinformation about the vaccines. “Big Tech’s failure to act on the Disinformation Dozen resulted in 105 pieces of vaccine disinformation being viewed up to 29 million times in the past month,” the update said.
Members of US Congress and state attorneys general have strongly urged Facebook and Twitter to ban the 12 influencers. The social media companies have been reluctant to banish them but have cracked down in other ways by labelling posts as misleading, removing outright lies and banning some repeat offenders.
Facebook moved on Thursday against several of the accounts, according to NPR, which was the first to report the new research.
The company has now removed 16 accounts linked to the dozen from Facebook or Instagram and has placed restrictions on 22 others, including blocking them from promoting themselves through paid ads, NPR reported Thursday.