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Facebook and Instagram Remove Accounts of Anti-Vaccine Group Headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

By Steve Smith

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, social media platforms have been the most effective vehicles used by spreaders of medical misinformation (MMI).

As reported by Sheera Frenkel of The New York Times, Facebook and Instagram this week removed the accounts of Children’s Health Defense, an organization that since 2018 has been run by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and is one of the largest U.S. anti-vaccine groups, for spreading medical misinformation. Not surprisingly, the nonprofit has accused Facebook and Instagram of censorship. The group reports that its Facebook and Instagram pages had amassed a half-million followers.

With Mr. Kennedy as its outspoken celebrity leader, over the course of the pandemic Children’s Health Defense has earned its dubious reputation as a MMI “super spreader,” repeatedly questioning the safety of Covid-19 vaccines and falsely claiming that the vaccines cause organ damage and harm to pregnant women. According to the New York Times reporting, the organization has recently expanded its messaging, attempting to erode consumers’ confidence in other kinds of vaccines with claims that vaccines for tetanus caused infertility, and that polio vaccines were responsible for a global rise in polio cases.

In its March 2021 white paper The Disinformation Dozen: Why Platforms Must Act on Twelve Leading Online Anti-Vaxxers, the Center for Countering Digital Hate said that a group of just 12 individuals are responsible for up to 73 percent of Facebook’s anti-vaccine content. Kennedy, a long-standing “anti-vaxxer” who is widely regarded as a symbol of the vaccine resistance movement, earned the number two spot on that list.

Topping the “Disinformation Dozen” is Joseph Mercola, the osteopathic physician who the NY Times called the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online. Others on the list include Ty and Charlene Bollinger, Sherri Tenpenny, Rizza Islam, Rashid Buttar, Erin Elizabeth, Sayer Ji, Kelly Brogan, Christiane Northrup, Ben Tapper and Kevin Jenkins.

Facebook parent Meta has policies against MMI but has struggled with how to enforce them. Before the pandemic, Meta removed only posts that could “contribute to a risk of imminent physical harm.” But during the pandemic, the company broadened their policy to include the removal of false claims about masking, social distancing and the transmissibility of the virus.

Children’s Health Defense has nearly 128,000 followers on its Twitter account, and Mr. Kennedy’s personal Twitter account has nearly 441,000 followers.

See also: Association of American Medical Colleges and CDC Launch Program to Address Medical Misinformation

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