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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Disinformation Superspreader

 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.

Emily Rauhala at WP:
For years now, well-organized and funded U.S. activists have been central to the global spread of dis- and mis- information about vaccine safety, particularly the false claim that vaccines cause autism.

When it comes to false information about vaccines, the United States “is sort of a superspreader,” said Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the author of “Stuck,” a book investigating why vaccine rumors don’t go away.

As the novel coronavirus made its way around the world in the spring, so did questions about an eventual vaccine.

Before the pandemic, the average adult did not think about vaccines until they had children, said Kolina Koltai, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington.

Now, information about vaccine development and testing is everywhere from Facebook groups to the nightly news. “At a global level, you have people talking about vaccines: Who is producing them? What are their political ties?” she said. “The anti-vaccine movement was already asking those questions.”

Anti-vaccine campaigners stepped in with answers, flooding existing networks with false and misleading content.

A major turning point was the May 4 release of a conspiracy video, “Plandemic,” featuring a discredited American scientist with ties to the anti-vaccine movement.

The video cast the coronavirus crisis as a shadowy plot orchestrated by the “scientific and political elite.” (There is no evidence to support this.) It falsely claimed that a coronavirus vaccine would “kill millions.” (Immunization prevents between 2 million and 3 million deaths per year, according to the WHO.)

“Plandemic” ricocheted across the Internet, bouncing from anti-vaccine groups to anti-lockdown groups, spreading among “Make America Great Again” enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists, as well as seemingly apolitical neighborhood bulletin boards.