Twenty accounts and groups tracked by NewsGuard gained more than 370,000 followers over past year
Misinformation and sceptical views about Covid
-19 and vaccines
has been allowed to spread on more than a dozen Facebook
and Instagram accounts, pages and groups that together have gained 370,000 followers over the past year, according to a report.
The misinformation and promotion of vaccine
hesitancy includes posts in Facebook
groups claiming that children are being “murdered by the experimental jab they’re being pressured to take”, and an Instagram account promoting a documentary by Andrew Wakefield, one of the key figures in promoting discredited links between MMR inoculation and autism.
The 20 accounts, pages and groups have been tracked by NewsGuard, an organisation that monitors online misinformation. Since September last year NewsGuard has submitted regular reports to the World Health Organization, at the WHO’s request, flagging social media sites and other digital platforms that are spreading falsehoods about Covid
In research published on Tuesday, NewsGuard said 20 of the sites that it had monitored over that period had gained a total of 372,670 followers. A full report containing the research has been sent to the WHO.
The NewsGuard research points to prominent sources of vaccine
scepticism such as the Facebook
pages of Robert F Kennedy Jr, a prominent anti-vaxxer, and Joseph Mercola, an alternative medicine doctor, as well as smaller sources such as the France Soir account on Instagram.
Kennedy was banned from Instagram over his vaccine
stance in February but his Facebook
page and Mercola’s Instagram account have gained more than 140,000 followers since February, according to NewsGuard. Mercola has said he has “every right to inform the public by sharing my medical research”.
came under pressure to ban Kennedy, the nephew of President John F Kennedy, in March when he released a documentary, Medical Racism, which has been accused of seeking to promote vaccine
hesitancy among black Americans. Kennedy has said the film “empowers all Americans to demand the safest vaccines
and Instagram are both owned by Meta, the company that until a rebranding last week was known as Facebook
Alex Cardier, the UK managing director for NewsGuard, said Facebook
and Instagram were failing to protect their users from Covid
-19 and vaccine
misinformation despite having been warned “repeatedly”.
He said: “The company’s engagement-at-all-costs mantra means that viral and divisive sources of misinformation continue to flourish, despite warnings from NewsGuard and the clear danger posed to users. Facebook
gave itself a new name but their promotion of misinformation remains the same.”
A Meta spokesperson said the company was encouraging users of its platforms to get vaccinated and it was taking action against misinformation. “During the pandemic we have removed more than 20m pieces of harmful misinformation and we’ve taken down content identified in this report which violates our rules. In total we’ve now banned more than 3,000 accounts, pages and groups for repeatedly breaking our rules. We’re also labelling all posts about the vaccines
with accurate information and worked with independent factcheckers to mark 190m posts as false.”
In an effort to reassure users on the efficacy of vaccines
, several of the Facebook
pages highlighted by NewsGuard contained Facebook
labels directing users to a WHO page on vaccines
or the company’s own Covid
-19 information centre page.
Meta announced last week that was stepping up efforts to promote vaccination efforts for children on its apps.