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.
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.
Like with a lot of other controversial topics, the Twitter outrage about the danger of vaccines doesn’t actually reflect a sudden surge in anti-vaccine beliefs amongst the general population. According to a recently published peer-reviewed article, most of increase in these anti-vaccine tweets represent a very specific demographic. Individuals from affluent, populated areas in five states – California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania – seem to be the backbone of this sudden increase in anti-vaccine tweets.
A hurricane of replies flew across Twitter (much of the evening I was retweeting the best ones, or just laughing). As one Tweeter remarked, “this is why the internet was invented.” Yup. Maybe Jenny didn’t know what she was doing?
If you haven’t ventured over to the hijacked #jennyasks (Jenny McCarthy) hashtag, I suggest you do it. This is why the internet was invented
There were so many more I could have used, but laughing that hard for so long can wear a person out. I did a rough estimate of pro-vaccine to anti-vaccine Tweets for #JennyAsks, and it was around 100-200:1. So, you can conclude that either most Twitter users who follow hashtags are pro-science/pro-vaccine, or anti-vaxxers have limited access to computers and Twitter, since they’re living off the grid avoiding the evil Jews trying to vaccinate them. Oh yeah, that’s a thing amongst the antivaccination crowd.
A few months ago, I got into a discussion with writer and brand new mother Tara Haelle, claiming that social media wasn’t very useful in changing the society’s views on topics. I was skeptical that massive “protests” on Twitter or Facebook would move the body politic on any issues. Apparently, I was wrong. Because Jenny’s hashtag was completely and utterly hijacked by the pro-science/pro-vaccine world.
By the way, I added my own tweet to #JennyAsks a few days ago:
Sometimes I run across articles and posts just because someone I follow on Twitter or Facebook will post a link that I happen to catch. Of course, I miss about 95% of what’s posted because I just don’t have the time to read them all. One person’s postings gets checked more frequently, since she focuses on vaccines, autism, and health care myths of all sorts. I ran across her while reading comments that followed an article in the LA Times (the story has long been deleted from my overloaded memory cells). She was responding to someone who maintained parents of autistic children were cheating the government out of disability payments. Let’s just say she was much nicer than I was.