The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) recently published a guide called the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group of 12 COVID-19 vaccine deniers who are responsible for the bulk of anti-vaccine information on social media. Some of the names are familiar (at least to me) and some are not that familiar (again, at least to me).
CCDH is one of the leading voices in calling out the anti-vaccine world, especially during this time of COVID-19 deniers. They have long pointed out that social media, especially Facebook, has become the major mouthpiece for these groups. And recently, President Joe Biden has called out Facebook for “killing people” as COVID-19 had evolved into the pandemic of the unvaccinated.
The Disinformation Dozen have a long history of grifting, lying, and anti-vaccine rhetoric. Of course, more recently, they have become committed COVID-19 vaccine deniers, while many of them are promoting evidence-lacking COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. And according to CCDH, the Disinformation Dozen are responsible for about 73% of the anti-vaccine content on Facebook. That is disturbing.
Because I like to be an encyclopedic resource for anti-vaccine garbage, like my list of facts and myths about the COVID-19 vaccine to debunk deniers, this article will be a list of the Disinformation Dozen along with links to further criticisms of them, whether or not it was written by yours truly. I wanted to also update what platforms some of these people are still using for their propaganda.
This Disinformation Dozen COVID-19 vaccine deniers
We will get to the group by naming names and such in a moment. But let’s review how CCDH got to naming these names. According to CCDH:
The Disinformation Dozen are twelve anti-vaxxers who play leading roles in spreading digital misinformation about Covid vaccines. They were selected because they have large numbers of followers, produce high volumes of anti-vaccine content or have seen rapid growth of their social media accounts in the last two months.
CCDH analyzed a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between 1 February and 16 March 2021. They found that that 65% of anti-vaccine content can be attributed to the Disinformation Dozen. An analysis of anti-vaccine content posted to Facebook over 689,000 times in the last two months shows that up to 73 percent of that content originates with members of the Disinformation Dozen anti-vaxxers.
CCDH tracked 425 anti-vaccine accounts. They found that their total followers across platforms stood at 59.2 million in December 2020, an increase of 877,000 more than they had in June 2020.
Unfortunately, despite repeatedly violating Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter’s terms of service agreements, many of the Disinformation Dozen remain on some or all of the three platforms. In other words, they’re still “killing people” – President Biden is right.
So, let’s go through each of the COVID-19 vaccine deniers one by one. (Note – I’ve tried to update with the current status of each of these quacks on the key social media platforms. However, it’s difficult to determine if their accounts are still there or are they under other names. If you know where they have been deplatformed, please leave a comment below.)
1. Joe Mercola
At the time of publication of the report, Mercola was still active on:
Joe Mercola has been a frequent subject of derision by me and others, like Orac. Recently, he was sanctioned by the FDA for pushing fake treatments for COVID-19. Mercola makes millions of dollars a year pushing fake treatments as replacements for vaccines or to treat fake vaccine injuries.
According to Orac:
Joseph Mercola, DO has been a frequent topic of discussion on this blog over the last 15 years. The reason is simple. He runs one of the largest repositories of misinformation about health on the entire Internet, including social media. He promotes antivaccine pseudoscience, the rankest of cancer quackery (e.g., the idea that cancer is a fungus and that baking soda can cure it), and pseudoscience and quackery of every imaginable variety, all while presenting himself as “moderate” and “reasonable” compared to those “real crazies,” like Mike Adams. It’s not just his website and social media activity, though. Selling supplements and all manner of woo, Mercola has become fabulously wealthy and has been using that wealth to support antivaccine groups, such as Barbara Loe Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Center to run antivaccine ads in various outlets , promoting a fake holiday known as Vaccine Injury Awareness Week over the last decade, and in general try to spread disease by discouraging vaccination. How wealthy has Joe Mercola become with his online quackery empire? His net worth is now over $100 million!
Well, I don’t want this to be a Mercola article, because it’ll go on forever.
2. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
At the time of publication of the report, Kennedy was still active on:
- Facebook (partially removed, a lot of Children’s Health Defense chapters retain presence)
- Instagram (partially removed)
RFK Jr. has also been a frequent subject here – he has a long history of not telling the truth about CDC vaccine patents, of trying to head up an anti-vaccine committee for Donald Trump, and of attacking Richard Pan. Kennedy heads up the anti-vaccine organization, Children’s Health Defense.
Kennedy has frequently presented misinformation linking Covid vaccines to deaths.
3. Ty & Charlene Bollinger
At the time of publication of the report, the Bollingers were still active on:
Ty and Charlene Bollinger are anti-vax entrepreneurs who run a network of accounts that market books and DVDs about vaccines, cancer, and COVID-19. In other words, like Mercola, they make money from their quackery, of course.
The Bollingers have promoted the conspiracy theory that Bill Gates plans to inject everyone with microchips as part of the COVID-19 vaccine program.
And as an added bonus they were at the “rallies” that ended up being part of the January 6, 2021 insurrection. So, they use these platforms to push the Big Lie about the election along with anti-vaccine nonsense.
4. Sherri Tenpenny
At the time of publication of the report, Tenpenny was still active on:
Tenpenny is a real physician (an osteopath, which in the USA is someone with a very similar education to MDs and are licensed as physicians – in many other countries, osteopaths are quacks) who should know better, but instead, she has been one of the leaders of the anti-vaccine activists for many years.
Recently, she made false claims about the safety and efficacy of masks via her social media channels.
5. Rizza Islam
At the time of publication of the report, Islam was still active on:
Rizza Islam’s anti-vaccine posts aim to spread vaccine hesitancy amongst African-Americans, who have exhibited some reluctance towards the COVID-19 vaccine. Facebook removed Rizza Islam’s Facebook Page in February 2021, unfortunately, he continues to post anti-vaccine messages from his Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Rizza Islam promoted the false conspiracy theory that COVID vaccines make women infertile – they don’t.
6. Rashid Buttar
At the time of publication of the report, Buttar was still active on:
Rashid Buttar is an osteopath physician and conspiracy theorist known for videos posted on his YouTube channel (I’m not going to link to any of his garbage, you can find it if you are so inclined).
I’m not sure what got him booted from Facebook, but it may have been his ongoing claims, like Islam above, about COVID-19 vaccines causing infertility.
7. Erin Elizabeth
At the time of publication of the report, Elizabeth was still active on:
Erin Elizabeth is the partner of the previously discussed, Joe Mercola. Need I say more? She runs a pseudoscience website called HealthNutNews. No, I’m not going to link to it.
So, Elizabeth is just another one of the crackpot COVID-19 vaccine deniers that are prevalent these days. When her Instagram account was active, she was a purveyor of every ignorant meme about the COVID-19 vaccine.
8. Sayer Ji
At the time of publication of the report, Sayer Ji was still active on:
Sayer Ji is an anti-vaccine quack whom I’ve frequently critiqued in the past. Ji runs a popular alternative health website, GreenMedInfo, that promotes pseudoscience and anti-vaccine misinformation. Although he has been deplatformed on Twitter and Instagram, GreenMedInfo is still available on Facebook.
Like the rest of these COVID-19 vaccine deniers, Sayer loves his conspiracies about the vaccine.
9. Kelly Brogan
At the time of publication of the report, Brogan was still active on:
Kelly Brogan is the partner of fellow pseudoscience grifter Sayer Ji and frequently posts articles on his website. She claims to practice “holistic psychiatry” (not a real thing) and sells a range of books and courses from her website, of course.
Brogan is a germ theory denier too, claiming that human diseases are not caused by infectious agents, like viruses, but by psychological issues.
10. Christiane Northrup
At the time of publication of the report, Northrup was still active on:
Christiane Northrup is an OB-GYN physician who has embraced alternative medicine and anti-vaccine conspiracies. She has used her social media accounts to spread denialism about the COVID-19 vaccine, though she is thoroughly anti-vaccine.
She has also passed along false information about hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, like many of the others in this Disinformation Dozen.
11. Ben Tapper
At the time of publication of the report, Tapper was still active on:
Ben Tapper chiropractor (quackery) with a growing following on social media. He has routinely posted COVID disinformation and spoken out against masking, of course.
12. Kevin Jenkins
At the time of publication of the report, Jenkins was still active on:
Kevin Jenkins is an anti-vaccine activist with a growing social media presence who has appeared at public events with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Jenkins has called vaccines a “conspiracy” to “wipe out” black people and is a co-founder of the Freedom Airway & Freedom Travel Alliance, a company founded in late 2020 to help its members travel around the world without observing any masking, quarantining, vaccination, or other pandemic control measures.
Of course, this is just the group that was responsible for over 70% of the anti-vaccine rhetoric on Facebook at the time of the publication of the CCDH report. I’m sure some of these individuals, who have been deplatformed by some or all of the social media companies, have been replaced by others.
Of course, the anti-vaxxers have started to use code words on Facebook and Twitter to disguise their true intent. The automatic systems that review these posts aren’t intelligent enough to catch the code words, and these individuals, or their loyal minions, continue to push the anti-vaccine narrative.
And worse yet, anti-vaxxers, who might not be all that powerful individually, often share blog posts and memes that come directly from the Disinformation Dozen.
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