How many anti-vaxxers does it take to misinform the world? Just twelve | Arwa Mahdawi

How many anti-vaxxers does it take to misinform the world? Just twelve | Arwa Mahdawi

The Guardian

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A majority of anti-vaccine propaganda can apparently be traced back to a handful of people. While de-platforming them is sometimes appropriate, there is a bigger, better solution

How many conspiracy theorists does it take to change a lightbulb? QAnon won’t let me tell you. I can, however, reveal that it takes only a dozen anti-vaxxers to spread dangerous misinformation to millions of people. According to a report from the NGO Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), up to 65% of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter can be traced back to just 12 people. Although Facebook has disputed the report’s methodology, the 12 have been nicknamed the “disinformation dozen”, and include Robert F Kennedy Jr, the nephew of John F Kennedy. A few of the 12 have been removed from at least one social media platform, but are still free to post on others.

Citing the CCDH report, a number of US lawmakers have urged social media companies to de-platform the 12 immediately. Which seems like a sensible thing to do considering we’re in the middle of a pandemic that will drag on for ever unless a critical mass of people are immunised. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that we don’t react to misinformation with a kneejerk response. Free-speech issues aside, banning people from tech platforms is a game of whack-a-mole. As long as the incentive structures for spreading false information remain in place, more conspiracy theorists will pop up. I’m not saying de-platforming is never appropriate, just that it can be a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

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