The new frontier of the anti-vaccine movement

A cold afternoon This past January, Kennedy picked up a microphone in front of a crowd of hundreds in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, some of which read, “We will not accept,” “Prevent medical torture” (with swastika) and “Free land you can’t force me.” . ” Earlier in the day, a procession, numbering in the thousands, included members of the far-right nationalist group The Proud Boys, helmeted firefighters and even some Buddhist monks in New England. They gathered for a rally called Defeat the Mandates: An American Homecoming. Its speakers included many of the country’s most prominent vaccine skeptics: vaccine researcher Robert Malone; Staff Dale BigTree; And, of course, Kennedy.

“I call what we see today totalitarianism,” he told his audience. “They are setting up all these technological processes for control that we have never seen before.” He continued: “Even in Hitler’s Germany you can cross the Alps and go to Switzerland. You can hide in the attic like Annie Frank. “But no more, he suggested:” Arrangements are being made that will make it so that none of us can run and none of us can hide. “

The response was swift, including his own wife, actress Cheryl Hines. On Twitter, He called Anne Frank’s reference is “reprehensible and sensitive.” Anger at Frank’s gesture, however, denies the deeper problem of how influential Kennedy and other figures in the anti-vaccination movement have become. Kennedy is chairman of an organization called Children’s Health Defense; It applied to Washington for permission to assemble. The nonprofit group, which claims to be “aggressively working to eliminate harmful exposures and end the childhood health epidemic”, has been churning out online articles that have sown seeds of skepticism about vaccine safety. And it has spread aggressively during the epidemic. As of January 2020, the Children’s Health Defense website received only 84,000 monthly visits from the United States, according to tracking firm SimilarWeb. As of this March, that number had reached more than 1.4 million monthly visits, a 17-fold increase in traffic. (Revenue from grants and fundraising events, already before the epidemic, was just under 1. 1.1 million in 2018, up from 8 6.8 million in 2020, according to the group’s tax filing.)

By one measure, CHD’s reach now sometimes exceeds that of truthful news outlets. The Indiana University Observatory on Social Media, which follows the CoVaxxy project on how vaccine-related content is shared on Twitter, has seen the agency’s vaccine-related posts – these may falsely claim that thousands of people have died from vaccination, for example, or Covid The risks of -19 boosters outweigh the benefits – often more broadly than vaccine-related items from CNN, NPR and disease control centers. In a few weeks, the vaccine-related content on Children’s Health Defense has been widely shared compared to The New York Times or the Washington Post.

Kennedy, who did not answer questions posed by his publisher, embodied an apparent contradiction in the anti-vaccine movement that presents a particularly difficult challenge for ordinary people. He has done important work as an environmental lawyer, and although other members of his family have publicly criticized his anti-vaccine crusade, he carries the name of one of the country’s most well-known democratic political families. He brought a certain amount of credibility to his cause. Many other figures who regularly question the safety and efficacy of vaccines have credentials that may seem impressive. They include Wakefield; Malone, the researcher who claims to have invented the mRNA vaccine (35 years ago, he and several colleagues published an important paper on the subject, but other scientists say he has not “discovered” the technology, which hundreds of scientists have since discovered.) Stay on top of work); And Judy Mikovits, a researcher whose 2009 study was linked to chronic fatigue syndrome with a viral infection was withdrawn from the journal Science. Mikovitz, who was fired from his job as research director at the Whitmore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Reno, has published a best-selling book on presumed error in science, entitled “The Plague of Corruption.”

Numerous experts have told me that a good way to understand what inspires many players in the anti-vaccine movement is through the lens of profit. There are different levels of profiteering. The first social media company involved. Historically, the algorithms that drive their platforms, some argue, do more to get users to respond regardless of whether it’s true or not. “It’s not some cutting-edge technology,” said Haney Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who researches misinformation on social media. “It simply came to our notice then. And the most annoying thing is, we click on it. “

Facebook and other social media companies have claimed that they have taken steps to prevent the spread of vaccine-related misinformation on their sites. Facebook now says it is helping to “keep people healthy and safe” by providing reliable information about the vaccine. But Farid and others doubt that Facebook, in particular, will completely rid itself of such material because attention-grabbing content, in the attention economy, is extremely valuable. “The business model, that’s the main poison here,” Farid said. A partial solution, he thinks, would be to change the regulatory law that allows individuals to hold social media companies legally liable – through lawsuits – for damages associated with the content they promote: “You have to be accountable for what you promote, especially because they I’m making money from. ” Aaron Simpson, a spokesman for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, told me in an email that there is “every incentive” to remove misinformation from the company’s platform because it monetizes advertising, and advertisers have repeatedly said they do not want their ads to appear next to misinformation. Being. And yet, in the past, prominent anti-vaccine activists themselves were advertisers on Facebook.

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