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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Antivaxx Business

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.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has a new report titled: Pandemic Profiteers: The Business of Anti-Vaxx.  The executive summary:

1. Analysis of the online anti-vaccine movement has identified a dozen leading antivaxxers who operate businesses or organisations with significant revenues.

2. These twelve are responsible for up to 70 percent of anti-vaccine content shared to Facebook. Three of these twelve - Joseph Mercola, Del Bigtree and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. - are so influential that they account for nearly half of this content.

3. Anti-vaxxers represent an industry with annual revenues of at least $36 million, based on a limited view of their finances based on self-reported filings and publicly available revenue estimates for 22 organisations belonging to twelve of the industry’s biggest earners. This anti-vaxx industry employs at least 266 people.

4. Anti-vaxxers have received more than $1.5 million in federal loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to help businesses through the Covid pandemic. The largest such beneficiary was the anti-vaxx entrepreneur Joseph Mercola, whose business received $617,000 in total.

5. Some leading anti-vaxxers are earning six-figure salaries for leading roles at antivaccine non-profits, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who earns $255,000 a year as Chairman of Children’s Health Defense.

6. The anti-vaxx industry’s total social media following of 62 million could be worth up to $1.1 billion to social media platforms based on publicly available figures for the amount of revenue social media platforms make per impression or per user where that information is not available.

7. Leading anti-vaxxers are collaborating to market each other's disinformation and boost sales. Leading anti-vaxxers including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. took part in a popular affiliate marketing scheme established by anti-vaxx entrepreneurs Ty and Charlene Bollinger which claims to have paid out $14 million to partners who promoted their health disinformation.

8. Anti-vaxx organisations led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Del Bigtree and Larry Cook privately admit in legal filings that they are reliant on mainstream social media platforms for reach and revenue, saying that deplatforming has curtailed their ability to spread anti-vaccine messages.

9. The same legal filings reveal that platforms do not believe that deplatforming contravenes free speech protections, with Facebook and YouTube stating that they are “private parties, not state actors. And under settled law, their content-moderation decisions are not subject to First Amendment constraints.”

10. We recommend that social media platforms take action to stop anti-vaxxers profiting from undeclared paid promotions for products, something which is against both platform standards and advertising regulations in the US and UK.

11. For-profit anti-vaxxers who repeatedly breach platform standards on dangerous misinformation should be deplatformed. The evidence shows that deplatforming cuts the audience anti-vaxxers can access, as well as their revenues.

12. Platforms must keep their promises to stop profiting from vaccine disinformation. As long as they allow vaccine disinformation on their platforms, they continue to make ad revenues from anti-vaxxers and their followers.