Search This Blog

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Anti-Vaxx Playbook

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing disease to spread Trump has helped spread misinformation.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has a report titled "The Anti-Vaxx Playbook."  The executive summary:

1. Drawing on access to a private conference attended by the world’s leading antivaxxers, CCDH has been able to reveal their plan to use social media to spread distrust about the Covid vaccine and recruit new supporters to their cause.

2. Leading anti-vaxxers view Covid as an historic opportunity for them to reach largernumbers of the public than ever before, and to create long-lasting distrust in theeffectiveness, safety and necessity for vaccination.

3. Online anti-vaxxers continue to grow, with 147 of the leading accounts gaining 10.1 million followers since 2019, an increase of 25%. The additional growth took place primarily on Instagram and YouTube, with anti-vaxxers adding an extra 4.3 million followers on each platform.

4. Anti-vaxxers have developed a sophisticated playbook for spreading uncertainty about a Covid vaccine, converting vaccine-hesitant people into committed antivaxxers, and resisting attempts to remove their misinformation.

5. Online anti-vaxxers have organised themselves around a “master narrative” comprised of three key messages: Covid is not dangerous, the vaccine is dangerous and vaccine advocates cannot be trusted.

6. Alternative health entrepreneurs, conspiracy theorists and accounts aimed at parents or ethnic communities vastly expand the reach of this master narrative and tailor it to cause uncertainty in their audiences.

7. Anti-vaxxers have created accessible online “answering spaces” such as Facebook Groups, Instagram accounts and purpose-built websites that are designed to answer legitimate questions about a Covid vaccine with anti-vaccine misinformation.

8. The most established anti-vaccine “answering spaces” identify vaccine hesitant individuals, convert them into committed anti-vaxxers and offer training to make them more effective activists.

9. Anti-vaxxers are attempting to mitigate the removal of their misinformation by adopting a “Lifeboat Strategy” of migrating their followers to “alt-tech” platforms such as Telegram and Parler, but with little success.

10. The public are urged not to engage with anti-vaxx misinformation online, even to rebut it or criticise it, because doing so only spreads the misinformation to new audiences. The example is given of anti-vaxxer narratives “trending” on social media on the first day of the vaccine rollout, primarily due to pro-vaccine accounts amplifying them. Instead, users are urged to share pro-vaccine messages.

11. Platforms are urged to remove the accounts of anti-vaxx “superspreaders”, those accounts with the largest followings and using the most cynical tactics. The report provides evidence that some are guilty of promoting false cures for Covid and training their social media followers to spread harmful misinformation.

12. Pro-vaccine practitioners are advised to focus on inoculating the public by ignoring individual memes and focusing on the master narrative, with a series of suggestions for how “inoculation” can make individuals more resilient to anti-vaxxer messaging.

From the report:

Our research discovered one document listed as a resource for activists on the now defunct “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” Facebook Group that contained a list of talking points aimed at persuading African Americans that health authorities such as the CDC had suppressed evidence that vaccine injuries were more common amongst African Americans. Another emerging version of this narrative suggests that vaccine advocates are planning to target ethnic minorities, using “economic coercion” to encourage them to use a Covid vaccine not for the benefit of those communities, but as a large-scale experimental sample. 

An Instagram post from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. with 22,000 likes advertises an event linking vaccines to the Tuskegee experiment, with a caption suggesting the MMR vaccine is linked to higher rates of autism in African-American children