Moises Velasquez-Manoff at NYT Magazine:
Numerous experts told me that a good way to understand what motivates many players in the anti-vaccine movement is through the lens of profit. There are several levels of profiteering. The first involves social media companies. Historically, the algorithms that drive their platforms, some argue, have fed users more and more of what they respond to without regard for whether it’s true. “It’s not some sophisticated technology,” says Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies misinformation on social media. “It turns out we’re primitive jerks. And the most outrageous stuff, we click on it.”
...Peter Hotez, of Baylor College of Medicine, points to the many anti-vaccine books sold on Amazon, some of them best sellers in their respective categories. Amazon, he says, is probably the largest purveyor of anti-vaccine books in the world. And then there are the individual figures who create anti-vaccine content. The Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, published a report in March last year titled “The Disinformation Dozen.” It estimated that around two-thirds of all anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter comes from just 12 sources, including Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense. If social media platforms simply enforced their own standards on these 12 people and their organizations, the report argued, most vaccine-related disinformation circulating online might disappear.
Facebook strongly disputes this finding. Simpson, the spokesman, says that the center does not clearly lay out how it defines anti-vaccine content, and its analysis focused on an overly narrow set of content — just 483 posts from 30 groups — that wasn’t representative of the hundreds of millions of posts about Covid-19 vaccines that users have actually shared. By the company’s own calculation, content from these 12 personalities accounted for just 0.05 percent of the total views of vaccine-related content. Nonetheless, more than three dozen pages associated with these individuals have been removed, a process that Simpson says was already underway when the Center for Countering Digital Hate put out its report. Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the center, says of Facebook’s challenge to its work, “If they had any questions about methodology, they had a year and a half to ask us.”
Some “disinformation dozen” figures, like Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, offer products directly. He presides over a multimillion-dollar business selling supplements and other merchandise online. (Mercola’s businesses and brand is worth more than $100 million, according to a 2017 affidavit he filed for insurance purposes.) Customers may reach his storefront through a circuitous route, which, according to Ahmed, is also a common occurrence in the anti-vaccine universe: Seemingly distinct websites are linked to one another, forming a gigantic virtual spider web to trap unwitting visitors.