The New Frontier of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

A chilly afternoon last January, Kennedy take the microphone in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, in front of a crowd of perhaps several hundred, some of whom carried signs that read: “We Will Not Comply,” “Against Medical Tyranny.” (with swastika) and “Land of freedom you can’t delegate to me. ” A march earlier that day, attended by thousands of people, including members of the far-right ethnic group Proud Boys, firefighters in helmets and even some monks Buddhists from New England They gathered for a rally called Defeat the Commissions: An American Homecoming Its speakers included many of the most famous vaccine skeptics. of the country: vaccine researcher Robert Malone; activist Del Bigtree; and of course, Kennedy.

“What we are seeing today is what I call turnkey totalitarianism,” he told his audience. “They’re applying all sorts of technological mechanisms to control that we’ve never seen before.” He continued: “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You can hide in the attic like Anne Frank did. ‘ But not anymore, he suggests: ‘Mechanisms are being put in place so that none of us can run and none of us can hide’.

Reactions were quick, including from his wife, actress Cheryl Hines. On Twitter, she called Anne Frank references “reproachable and insensitive.” But indignation at Frank’s allusion negated the deeper problem, which was How influential was Kennedy? and other figures in what the anti-vaccination movement has become. Kennedy is the president of an organization called Children’s Health Defense; it applied for a permit to organize a protest in Washington. The nonprofit group, which says it aims to “end the childhood health epidemic by working hard to eliminate harmful exposure,” publishes articles online that cast doubt on safety. of vaccines. And it has expanded dramatically during the pandemic. In January 2020, the Child Health Defense website received just under 84,000 monthly visits from the United States, according to tracking company Similarweb. As of this March, that number has reached more than 1.4 million monthly visits, a 17-fold increase in traffic. (According to the corporation’s tax filings, revenue, which comes from donations and fundraisers, had skyrocketed before the pandemic, according to the group’s tax filings, to $6.8 million in 2020 from just $1. $1.1 million in 2018)

In a sense, the reach of CHD today sometimes exceeds that of genuine news agencies. Indiana University’s social media observatory, featuring Project CoVaxxy monitoring how vaccine-related content is shared on Twitter, discovered that the organization’s vaccine-related posts – these posts could falsely claim that thousands of people have died from vaccines, or that the risks of a Covid-19 booster outweigh the benefits – are often more widely shared than vaccine-related entries from CNN, NPR, and the Centers for Disease Control. In some weeks, Child Health Defense’s vaccine-related content was shared more widely than The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Kennedy, who did not respond to questions submitted through his publisher, expressed the seeming contradictions of the anti-vaccination movement that pose a particularly difficult challenge to the public. He has done important work as an environmental lawyer, and although other members of his family have publicly criticized his anti-vaccination crusade, he still named after one of the most famous Democratic political families in the country. He brings a certain credibility to his career. Many other figures regularly question the safety and utility of vaccines whose credentials may seem impressive. These include Wakefield; Malone, researcher who declared? invented the mRNA vaccine (35 years ago, he and several colleagues published an important paper in the field, but other scientists say that he did not “invent” the technology but hundreds of scientists have studied since then); and Judy Mikovits, a researcher whose 2009 paper linking chronic fatigue syndrome to viral infections was retracted from the journal Science. Mikovits, who was fired from his job as research director of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuroimmunological Diseases in Reno, Nev., published a best-selling book on scientific misconduct titled “Epidemic of Corruption”.

Many experts tell me that a good way to understand what drives multiplayer in the anti-vaccination 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 platform, some debate, has given users more and more of what they respond to without regard for whether it’s true or not. “It’s not some complicated technology,” said Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies misinformation on social media. “It turns out we were primitive fools. And the weirdest stuff, we click on that. ”

They claim Facebook and other social media companies have taken steps to combat the rise of vaccine-related misinformation on their websites. Facebook now speak that it is helping “keep people healthy and safe” by providing reliable information about vaccines. But Farid and others doubt that Facebook, in particular, will ever get rid of that content entirely because attention-grabbing content, in the attention economy, is incredibly valuable. “The business model, that’s really the core poison here,” said Farid. He thinks a partial solution would be changes to regulatory legislation that would allow individuals holding social media companies to be held liable – through lawsuits – for harm related to what they advertise: “You are responsible for what you are promoting, especially since they are making money from it. “Aaron Simpson, a spokesman for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, told me in an email that the company has “every incentive” to remove misinformation from its platform because it makes money from advertising. and advertisers have repeatedly said they don’t want their ads to appear next to misinformation.And yet, in the past, prominent anti-vaccination activists have taken it upon themselves. be an advertiser On Facebook.

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