In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread. And among those diseases could be COVID-19.
“That activity has raised the profile of the very long-standing problem of coordinated brigading. That kind of mass harassment has a significant impact on people'’s lives,” said Renee DiResta, research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory and an expert in online disinformation.Ben Collins at NBC:
At this point, QAnon has become an omniconspiracy theory, says DiResta—it’s no longer just about some message board posts, but instead a broad movement promoting many different, linked ideas. Researchers know that belief in one conspiracy theory can lead to acceptance of others, and powerful social-media recommendation algorithms have essentially turbocharged that process. For instance, DiResta says, research has shown that members of anti-vaccine Facebook groups were seeing recommendations for groups that promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory back in 2016.
“The recommendation algorithm appears to have recognized a correlation between users who shared a conviction that the government was concealing a secret truth. The specifics of the secret truth varied,” she says.
Erin McAweeney, a senior research analyst at Graphika, a New York-based social media analysis company, discovered that some alternative health, religious and anti-vaccination communities appeared to become singularly focused on COVID-19 health
misinformation right as the pandemic was beginning to ramp up in the United States.
"Over the months we saw these networks fully refocus to produce and communicate solely on the impact of the pandemic and the differing government responses," McAweeney said.
But even more dangerously, many of the recommended groups seemed to converge around one community: QAnon. Since QAnon has become something of a catch-all conspiracy for an omnipotent power keeping society down, the details are vague enough to offer a "bridge" to all sorts of beliefs.
"The strongest bridge we found between QAnon and non-QAnon communities was spirituality and religion," McAweeney said. "This content isn't inherently problematic, but people are often most vulnerable when seeking spiritual information online and more susceptible to alternative and extreme views."
Daniel Malloy at Ozy:
Trump has a natural soft spot for the anti-vax crowd, aside from their tendency to like him. Conspiratorial by nature, he has for years spread the disproven allegation that vaccines cause autism with his usual blind certainty. If a culture war erupts over vaccinations — and everything causes a culture war these days — it’s easy to imagine Trump taking the QAnon approach and trying to avoid alienating a segment of his fan base. In fact, there’s ample overlap between QAnon adherents and anti-vaxxers, who in some cases fear the vaccine is a form of mind control. And that Bill Gates might be involved.