Alexandra Levine at Politico:
Anti-vaccination movements are not new to the online landscape, and tech platforms have long been grappling with how to handle them. But false claims and conspiracies about Covid vaccines are already looking more difficult to police than those social media companies have had to deal with in the past.
Part of the trouble is that there is limited data about the coronavirus vaccines, making some narratives harder to refute than claims about vaccines that have been around for years — such as that childhood shots cause autism, which repeated studies over years have proven to be untrue. Even debunking unfounded claims about the Covid vaccines involves explaining a vaccine that operates by a new mechanism.
Another is that the outbreak arrived at a time when enormous communities distrusting of government have been growing online.
Taken together, the scientific unknowns and political anxiety have mixed to produce a complex new breed of anti-vax.
Melanie Smith, head of analysis at Graphika, a social media analytics firm that tracks misinformation, said the fringe QAnon movement has gained influence with anti-vax communities online, boosting momentum and pushing unfounded claims about Covid vaccines into the mainstream.
“QAnon at its core is an anti-government conspiracy — and we are existing in a time where communication with governments is extremely important, particularly for public health — so you have QAnon turning its attention to vaccinations,” said Smith, who has been studying the intersection of vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories since the pandemic began. (One of the most popular political conspiracies in the U.S. right now, she noted, is that the vaccines implant a microchip created by Bill Gates for citizen surveillance.)