Facebook failed to stop anti-vaccine posts – profits trump science

Facebook vaccine

Many of us have a love/hate relationship with Facebook – but most of us realized how little it cared about anti-vaccine posts when the COVID-19 vaccines were starting to show high effectiveness and safety in clinical trials. Once we began to believe that we might have COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2020 (which proved to be true), the anti-vaxxers started to move into full action.

I even started to track and debunk the ridiculous claims of the COVID-19 vaccine deniers, most of which I found on various Facebook posts and comments.

And now, with only about 58% of the US population, or around 191 million individuals, having been fully vaccinated, it seems to be more difficult to reach the goal of around 80% of the population who are fully vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

I hate to blame Facebook for all of society’s ills, but it’s clear that they are deeply responsible for the lack of COVID-19 vaccine uptake in the USA and many other countries. Given that only 12 accounts on social media are responsible for around 73% of the anti-vaccine content, it would have been easy for Facebook to block those accounts and keep the noise to a minimum.

But they didn’t. And based on extensive investigations by a consortium of news services across the world, Facebook provided safe harbor for these COVID-19 vaccine deniers for one reason – profits.

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YouTube bans vaccine misinformation – sometimes science prevails

YouTube vaccine

On 29 September 2021, YouTube announced that it was banning all videos with vaccine misinformation, and it was banning the accounts of several dangerous anti-vaccine activists such as Joseph Mercola, Erin Elizabeth, Sherri Tenpenny, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The tide is turning against the vaccine denialists who have used social media, including YouTube, to push anti-vaccine nonsense. It couldn’t happen soon enough.

YouTube said it would remove videos claiming that vaccines are not effective in reducing the rates of transmission or contraction of the disease. It will remove content that includes disinformation about the ingredients in a vaccine. And they will remove any video that claims that approved vaccines cause autism, cancer, or infertility. Finally, they will remove any information that claims that vaccines contain electronic trackers.

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The tragic story of Christopher Bunch – HPV vaccine is not the cause

This article about the tragic story of Christopher Bunch was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

On 14 August 2018, fourteen-year-old Christopher Bunch died from acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), leaving his loving, devoted family reeling. The family blamed his death on the HPV vaccine that Christopher received, and they were quickly surrounded and courted by anti-vaccine activists.

My heart goes out to Christopher’s family. I followed the case since he was in the hospital, hoping and praying with them for a good outcome, and I feel their heartbreak. I was also deeply impressed by their initial reaction, which was to create a positive legacy for Christopher, making him visible and famous.

I would rather not write about this, which is why this post is so long after the fact. But Christopher’s death is since being used to try and scare people away from HPV vaccines or vaccines generally, putting others at risk of cancer and death. With very little basis: the timing and the epidemiological evidence do not support a link between Christopher’s death and HPV vaccines. Christopher Bunch deserves a better legacy than that.

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Tiffany Dover did NOT die after getting COVID-19 vaccine – harassed by anti-vaxxers

This article about the anti-vaxxer harassment of Tiffany Dover was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

For several weeks, anti-vaccine activists from all around the world have targeted a nurse from Tennessee, Tiffany Dover, stalking and harassing her, her employer, and her family. This post describes the kind of behavior Tiffany Dover was subjected to, offers some steps people in that situation can take, and points to the features of social media that make this kind of targeted harassment possible.

Ms. Dover was not the only – or even the worst – case of this kind of sustained harassment in the past years. The worst is probably the extensive, ugly, horrible targeting of the families who lost children in the Sandy Hook shooting. 

This kind of behavior is highly problematic and needs a response.

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Your one stop shop for the anti-vaccine hate debate

vaccine hate debate

I and others have written several articles on this website about the anti-vaccine hate debate – discussing the atrocious and hateful behavior of a large portion of the anti vaccination cult.

This kind of “free speech” goes beyond simple mockery, ad hominem attacks, or, though it rarely happens, arguments about the science. Ad hominem attacks are, by definition, personal attacks that are used in lieu of real evidence. So, if you lack evidence to support your side of a debate (even a fake debate like what is happening with vaccines), you attack the person, rather than the evidence.

Of course, if you do lack evidence, you will be mocked mercilessly for lacking said evidence. Cherry-picked evidence doesn’t count. Appeals to authority as evidence doesn’t count. Employing the Nirvana fallacy doesn’t count. The only evidence that matters must come from high quality sources that are repeated many times and are often rolled up into a substantial meta-review.

The vaccine hate debate on exists because they have nothing – no evidence of harm, no evidence of a lack of benefit. None. Ground zero of the Facebook anti-vaccine hate crazies is The Vaccine Resistance Movement (VRM) – read their hatred and lies. Donald Trump would be proud of them.

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Anti-Semitic vaccine deniers – continued attacks on Prof. Reiss

Anti-Semitic vaccine deniers

The second most prolific writer on this blog (after the feathery carnivorous dinosaur) is Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a tenured professor of Law at University of California Hastings College of Law, one of the premiere law schools in this country. Yesterday, Professor Reiss wrote a detailed article about a recent proceeding with that case which she attended. Within hours, if not minutes, the anti-Semitic vaccine deniers were out in force to attack her.

It’s been clear to me for a long time that those on the anti-vaccine side realize they lack evidence – their only choice is to go for the ad hominem personal attacks. These attacks come in  all forms from accusing people of being shills for whatever company to creating some massive conspiracy that includes those of us who are Jewish and pro-vaccine. Just a note, this dinosaur is Jewish – but I’m flexible on consuming pigs.

The anti-vaccine cult can’t help themselves. Let’s see what they’ve done in the past few hours.

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Racist Facebook troll attacks pro-science writers

racist facebook troll

People try to claim that there’s some sort of debate about vaccines. In fact, one side, supported by the facts that the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is overwhelming and unbiased. The other side has nothing, so they employ a racist Facebook troll to game the system to make it appear that “we” are bad people.

It’s kind of a funny strategy on their part. The troll attacks Allison Hagood, an accomplished author and one of the leaders of the movement to protect children with vaccines. The racist troll has attacked Dorit Rubinstein Reiss and ghostly Orac, both of whom are intellectual heavyweights, who know more about the science and ethics of vaccines than the racist Facebook troll would know in a million years.

One of the troll’s and her minions’ latest attacks was a photoshopped image that made Professor Hagood look like a weird looking Hitler. And just to remind the reader, generally, using images that attempt to link an innocent person to Hitler or Nazism is a form of anti-Semitism, and is considered hate speech.

The racist troll has done all she can do to suppress the intelligent and thoughtful discourse about vaccines – that they protect lives and have saved nearly a million children’s lives in the past few years.

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Antivaccine activists attack Allison Hagood using Facebook

Antivaccine activists attack Allison Hagood

Allison Hagood is a professor of psychology and a public advocate for science and public health, particularly vaccines. She co-authored the book, “Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives” (with co author Stacy Mintzer Herlihy and a foreword by Paul Offit, MD). Recently, antivaccine activists attack Allison Hagood using Facebook to push their agenda.

Hagood is very active in social media, administering several Facebook pages, including the Anti Vax Wall of Shame (AVWoS), a page created to document, track and mock comments made by anti-vaccine activists. In the past, AVWoS has been the target of concerted attacks from anti-vaccine activists, and these attacks continue today. It has not let up for over a year.

Last month, Facebook banned Ms. Hagood for 30 days, for posting an image that “violates community standards”.  The image, with a caption Allison added, is shown below.  This was her third ban in a row.

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Anti Semitic hate speech of the antivaccine cult

I think I’ve said this close to a million times (give or take a few hundred thousand) – the only thing in science that matters is evidence. That’s it.

It’s been clear to me for a long time once those one the anti-science side realize they lack evidence, they go for the ad hominem attacks, in all kinds of forms from accusing people of being shills for whatever company to going full-Godwin, that is, if you wait long enough while in an internet discussion, someone will claim something or someone is a Nazi.

Well, the anti vaccine cult has reached a new high (or is it low) for breaching Godwin’s Law, bypassing a lame relationship between vaccines and Nazis, and going straight for anti Semitic hate speech and bigotry.

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New Disqus comments system

On 8 June 2014, I switched the comment system from Facebook based to Disqus, a different kind of commenting system. There were a few reasons for this decision:

  1. Facebook allowed too much spam in here. Because of Facebook’s tracking system, spammers could target fake comments that might be attractive to readers of various articles. It was almost creepy in how this spam fit with what was written
  2. You have to be on Facebook to comment in a Facebook environment, and there are a lot of people who did not want to set up a Facebook account. I empathize with that, so Disqus allows for several types of login, including setting up an account that is not on any social network.
  3. Disqus allows for threading of comments, which cannot be done with the Facebook system.
  4. Facebook constantly changed it’s programming which would break the comments section for a day or two every few weeks. It was frustrating, and because Facebook refused to publish its changes, they would happen without warning.
  5. Facebook had a binary moderation mode, either on or off. Disqus has a more vibrant one.
  6. You can up vote and down vote Disqus comments. This let’s the casual reader know who has contributed something useful to the conversation.

I pulled the switch on the change this afternoon. There are a few issues here and there, including a boatload of missing comments. I’m trying to recover them, and some have shown up, but others are being recalcitrant. They’re not lost for me, as I can see them in my database, but making the database talk to Disqus has been a challenge. Eventually it will be all worked out. I want to be able to see all of the antisemitic remarks for the Oberführer of whale.to.

A lot of websites now use Disqus, and it’s pretty easy to remain logged on, so that you can comment to your heart’s content across the internet. Because you know, one day, we will correct all of the mistakes on the internet. OK, maybe correcting the mistakes on Wikipedia will have to suffice.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or complaints, leave them here. Maybe I can fix them. Maybe I can’t. Maybe in a year, I’ll switch back to Facebook Comments. Probably not.