The far-right conspiracy theory has been seeping into anti-vaccination pages all over social media.
By Jesselyn Cook | HuffPost
Last week, Facebook axed the biggest anti-vaccine group on its platform. “Stop Mandatory Vaccination,” which at one point had more than 200,000 followers, was a cesspool of anti-vaccine propaganda, where members regularly peddled and profited off “natural remedies” while discouraging each other from seeking traditional medical care.
But the group hadn’t violated a policy against spreading dangerous health misinformation, or pushing vaccine falsehoods, or hawking unproven “cures” when it suddenly disappeared last Tuesday night — no such rules exist on Facebook. It was shut down for promoting QAnon.
QAnon rhetoric has been seeping into anti-vax pages all over social media in recent months. Devoted adherents of the conspiracy theory have weathered tech giants’ sweeping crackdowns by infiltrating other communities that exist on the platforms, then poisoning them with disinformation. This has transformed the large ecosystem of anti-vax communities online into radicalization pipelines for QAnon.
“The purpose of vaccination is to literally slaughter the population and dumb everyone down and render them helpless,” Larry Cook, the creator of “Stop Mandatory Vaccination,” warned in his final Facebook Live video. “It is a global plan to literally enslave every human on the planet.”
Over Cook’s right shoulder was an image of the American flag atop the QAnon slogan, #WWG1WGA. Over his left was the letter Q, decorated in stars and stripes. Comments poured in from viewers thanking him for “awakening” them to the “truth.”
Like Cook, other leaders of the anti-vaccine movement including Ty and Charlene Bollinger as well as David Wolfe have introduced their followings to QAnon via their various anti-vax social channels, where content is less likely to be moderated. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube fail to remove 95% of the posts containing anti-vax misinformation that are flagged to them, according to a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
Inside the sprawling network of anti-vaccination accounts on Instagram, which is one of the worst platforms for such content, you’re now about as likely to see a post baselessly claiming that Democrats rigged the election against President Donald Trump, or that COVID-19 was a pre-planned disaster, or that President-elect Joe Biden is a pedophile, as you are to see one exclusively disputing vaccine science.
To members of anti-vax communities, which are often filled with new mothers seeking information about vaccines, the transition has been pretty smooth. Unfounded vaccination fears have melded with QAnon propaganda to form a unified theory of elite malevolence. Vaccines are no longer simply a supposed health risk (note: vaccines are safe and rigorously tested) — they’re now part of a “deep-state” agenda to brainwash and control humanity.
“The virus is engineered. The pandemic is engineered. The second wave is engineered. The need for a vaccine is engineered,” Laura Muhl, one of Instagram’s most prominent anti-vax influencers and a mother of five, told her followers in a post earlier this year, between others floating similarly unsubstantiated nonsense (and advertising various “wellness” products).
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