Majority of Disinformation Dozen Allowed to Keep Spreading Anti-Vax Message Despite Big Tech Pledge to Crack Down
Most Prominent Anti-Vax Leaders Remain Active a Month after Tech CEOs Vowed More Vigilance to Congress
The nation’s most prominent anti-vaccine leaders have continued to spread misinformation in violation of terms of service of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, one month after Big Tech leaders vowed at a Congressional hearing they would crack down on the violators, according to a new report.
Researchers from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Anti-Vax Watch identified 105 posts from members of the “Disinformation Dozen” in violation of the social media giants’ own rules since the March 25 hearing.
This report directly refutes new Congressional testimony given today, April 27, by Facebook executive Monika Bickert. When asked by Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar if the dozen violators identified to Facebook a month ago had been removed from the platform, Birkert testified wrongly that accounts that were violating had been removed.
The report shows that despite Bickert’s claims, 10 of the top 12 anti-vax leaders remain on Facebook and Twitter, and nine of 12 remain on Instagram, as of April 25. Their posts in the past month have included links to data falsely linking COVID vaccines to death, conspiracies on COVID being lab-engineered and “anticipated by global elites,” and calling masks on youngsters “child abuse” and could have been seen up to 29 million times, based on existing followers.
“Big Tech promised to protect public health by taking enforcement action against known, repeat-offender vaccine disinformation superspreaders. Yet, so far, they have failed to finish the job,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer (CEO) of CCDH. “The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram know exactly who is violating their terms of service. Their lies cost lives, and social media companies’ refusal to remove them has dire consequences. Big Tech must stop profiting from the spread of this disinformation.”
A CCDH and Anti-Vax Watch report in March found that 65 percent of all anti-vaccine content shared on Facebook and Twitter was attributable to the Disinformation Dozen.
Members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee pressed Big Tech CEOs in the March 25 hearing about the report and their platforms’ failure to enforce policies that have allowed these individuals to continue to spread misinformation online despite repeat policy violations. Similar warnings were issued by Sens. Klobuchar, Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and 12 state attorneys general.
Since the report’s release on March 24, social media platform operators have taken some enforcement action, and a handful of the Disinformation Dozen members’ accounts were removed from at least one platform. However, social media CEOs have not followed through with comprehensive action against the majority of the Disinformation Dozen.
CCDH and Anti-Vax Watch are urging Big Tech to protect public health, enforce their own policies and remove the Disinformation Dozen from their platforms.
Their appeals are echoed by prominent medical experts and frontline physicians from the #ThisIsOurShot Campaign. Jennifer Nuzzo, lead epidemiologist for the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative; Céline Gounder, infectious diseases specialist and internist at New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital; and #ThisIsOurShot co-founders, Drs. Atul Nakhasi and Sunny Jha, released a joint statement in conjunction with CCDH and Anti-Vax Watch’s new report highlighting the public health implications of social media’s failure to take action against the Disinformation Dozen.
“The longer social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow these dangerous lies to continue circulating, the more lives will be unnecessarily at risk,” the joint statement said. “We strongly urge these platforms to enforce their own policies on disinformation. We respectfully ask that all enforcement be prompt, consistent and fully transparent. By simply following through on the statements, rules and regulations these companies have announced, they can stem the tide of dangerous lies. Failure to do so will certainly prolong the pandemic and needlessly leave countless lives in the balance.”
Read the full report here.