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Monday, October 4, 2021

Antivaxxers and Social Media Workarounds

 In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  TwitterFacebook, and other social media platforms have helped spread this dangerous myth.

Kiera Butler at Mother Jones:
There is an article on “Merck Fraud” from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine group Children’s Health Defense. There is a “vaccine guide” that warns of harmful additives and hidden adverse reactions to immunizations. There is a site that urges people to be part of the COVID-19 vaccine “control group” by not getting vaccinated; there is a place where you can purchase a tank top that says “separate pharma & state.”

If the content in these links were posted on Instagram itself, they could trip the platform’s misinformation algorithms because they contain factually incorrect statements. (The vaccine guide link, for example, suggests that vaccines cause autism, which isn’t true.) If the algorithm picked up on this, the account could be suspended or even banned. But Janny Organically and a host of other Instagram users have figured out a clever workaround: They’ve found sites that allow you to curate a list of links under one tidy and unassuming URL. Janny Organically uses one of two very popular link curating platforms: a Milwaukee-based company Another is Linktree, an Australian company. doesn’t share much about its size, but its client roster includes some big names: Dell, USA Softball, and the popular WNYC radio show Radiolab, to name a few. According to Linktree’s website, it has 8 million clients and offices in Sydney and Los Angeles. Instagram users also have the option of using a link-list service called, which is hosted by Instagram itself.

I counted dozens of popular anti-vaccine Instagram accounts that use link lists, including a chiropractor in San Diego with 33,000 followers, an essential-oils-peddling homeschool mom in Tennessee with 101,000 followers, and an Australian podcaster with 80,000 followers. Some organizations use them, too: A powerful anti-vaccine advocacy group called Freedom Keepers United uses a Campsite link on its Instagram account, which has more than 66,000 followers. Another anti-vaccine group, Moms for Liberty, uses Linktree in several of its local chapters.