A new frontier of the anti-vaccine movement

One day a cold dream In January last year, Kennedy picked up a microphone in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in front of several hundred people, some of whom held placards reading “We Disobey,” “Resist Medical Tyranny.” swastika) and “The land of freedom you cannot give me a mandate.” The march, which drew several thousand people that day, included members of the Proud Boys, a group of right-wing nationalists, helmeted firefighters, and even several Buddhist monks from New England. They gathered for a rally called Winning Mandates: Returning to America’s Home. His speakers included many of the country’s most prominent vaccine skeptics: Robert Malone, a vaccine researcher; activist Del Bigtry; and, of course, Kennedy.

“What we see today is what I call key totalitarianism,” he told his audience. “They are launching all the technological mechanisms we’ve ever seen for control.” He continued: “Even in Hitler’s Germany, it is possible to cross the Alps and cross into Switzerland. You can hide in a tent like Anne Frank. ” But he went on to suggest that “mechanisms are being set up so that none of us can run and hide.”

The reaction was immediate, including that of his wife, actress Cheryl Hines. On Twitter, he called Anne Frank’s reference is “guilty and insensitive.” But how angry Kennedy and other members of the anti-vaccine movement were at Frank’s anger further dispelled the question. Kennedy is chairman of an organization called Child Health; He applied for permission to hold a rally in Washington. A non-profit group that aims to “stop the epidemic of children’s health by working aggressively to eliminate the harmful effects” publishes online articles that question the safety of vaccines. And it expanded aggressively during the pandemic. In January 2020, a small 84,000 monthly visitors from the United States visited the Children’s Health website. As of March this year, that number had grown to more than 1.4 million people a month, a 17-fold increase in traffic. (Revenue from charitable and fundraising activities, according to the group’s tax return, increased just before the pandemic, reaching $ 6.8 million in 2020, down from $ 1.1 million.)

To some extent, the reach of CHD now sometimes exceeds that of good news agencies. Indiana University’s Social Media Observatory has revealed how its CoVaxxy project shared vaccine-related content on Twitter, and the organization’s claims about the vaccine, for example, could falsely claim that thousands of people have died from the vaccine. The risks of Covid-19 amplifiers outweigh the benefits – they are more shared than the vaccine-related substances of CNN, NPR and the Centers for Disease Control. In some weeks, vaccine-related content on children’s health has become more widespread than The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Kennedy, who did not answer questions from its publisher, described the apparent contradictions of the vaccine movement, which posed a particularly serious problem for ordinary people. He has done important work as an environmental lawyer, and although other members of his family have openly criticized his vaccine crusades, he still bears the name of one of the country’s most prominent Democratic political families. He has a certain amount of confidence in his work. Many other figures who have doubts about the safety and usefulness of vaccines have credentials that may seem impressive. They include Wakefield; Malone, a researcher who claims to have invented the mRNA vaccine (35 years ago he and several colleagues published an important article in the field, but other scientists say he did not “invent” the technology, and hundreds of scientists have worked since then); and researcher Judy Mikowitz, who linked chronic fatigue syndrome to a viral infection, was removed from the 2009 journal Science. Mikowitz, who was fired as research director at the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuroimmune Diseases in Reno, has published a best-selling book, The Plague of Corruption, about alleged abuses in science.

Many experts have told me that a good way to understand what motivates many players in the anti-vaccine movement is through the lens of this benefit. There are several levels of profitability. The first involves social media companies. Historically, the algorithms that control their platforms, some of them, have fed users more by whether they respond to it or not. “It’s not a complicated technology,” said Hani Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who has studied misinformation on social media. “It turns out that we are a primitive idiot. And the scariest thing, we press it. “

Facebook and other social media companies say they have taken steps to prevent the spread of false information about the vaccine on their websites. Facebook says it is now helping to “protect people’s health and safety” by providing reliable information on vaccines. But Farid and others are skeptical that Facebook, in particular, will get rid of such material altogether, because the content it focuses on is very valuable in the economy of attention. “The business model is really the main poison here,” Farid said. According to him, the partial solution will be changes in the laws that allow individuals to prosecute social media companies for damage to the content they advertise: “You have to answer for what you advertise, especially if they make money from it.” Aaron Simpson, a spokesman for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, told me in an email that he had “all incentives” to remove misinformation on the company’s platforms because he makes money from ads and advertisers have repeatedly said they don’t want them. their ads appear next to incorrect information. However, in the past, prominent anti-vaccine activists have been advertisers on Facebook.

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