The New Frontier of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

A chilly afternoon This past January, Kennedy took up a microphone in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, in front of a crowd of several hundred people, some of whom carried signs reading “We Won’t Comply,” “Against Regime.” medical tyranny” (with swastika) and “Land of the free, you can’t authorize me.” A march earlier that day, attended by thousands of people, including members of the far-right ethnic group Proud Boys, helmeted firefighters and even some Buddhist monks teachers from New England. They gathered for a rally called Defeat the Commissions: An American Homecoming. Its speakers include many of the country’s most famous vaccine skeptics: 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 the outrage at the Frank allusion negates the deeper issue of how influential Kennedy and other figures in the anti-vaccination movement have 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 exposures,” 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 now sometimes goes far beyond that of genuine news outlets. The Indiana University Social Media Observatory, whose Project CoVaxxy tracks how vaccine-related content is shared on Twitter, found that the organization’s vaccine-related posts – these posts may falsely claim that thousands of people have died from being vaccinated, for example. The risks of Covid-19 boosters outweigh the benefits – often shared more widely 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 are posing a particularly difficult challenge to the population. 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, the researcher who claims to have invented the mRNA vaccine (35 years ago, he and several colleagues published an important paper in the field, but other scientists say he did not ” invented” technology that hundreds of scientists have since worked on); and Judy Mikovits, a researcher whose 2009 paper on the link between chronic fatigue syndrome and 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, some have argued that the algorithms that drive their platforms have given users more and more of what they respond to, regardless of 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 says it’s 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, prominent anti-vaccination activists have served as advertisers on the internet in the past. Facebook.

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