Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is big business

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Posted at 11:30 AM, May 20, 2021

Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines isn't just harmful to people's health, it's also big business.

“And, very specifically, these are sophisticated. They're not individuals. These are companies, 501(c)(3)s, LLCs that web together and they produce high-quality misinformation that's designed to be as compelling, as shareable, as clickable and as believable as possible,” said Imran Ahmed, Chief Executive at the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

Ahmed is talking about who they classified as the "disinformation dozen," that’s 12 people who the center says are responsible for 65% of the misinformation online.

The nonprofit says the people are motivated either politically, psychologically, or by profits, and that they're selling an industry of doubt to people scared or hesitant to get vaccines.

“That allows them then to sell their own false cures, whether it's access to privileged information, access to false cures, access to their videos, their content, their books. And if they can latch, if they can distance people from the normal health authorities that they trust and replace them, well it's a big market for them to access,” said Ahmed.

He says at first, major social media platforms said this sort of misinformation didn't violate community standards. Only recently did they start taking action, but many accounts are still active. And the anti-vax for-profit reach has grown by at least 10 million followers during the pandemic.

“In a pandemic, the greatest gift you can give someone is good information, so go out and share good information that you see. Part of the problem has been that we're far too quick to engage with bad information and not with good information, and bad information often just to say this is nonsense, but still the algorithms that underpin social media platforms as we've learned over many years, they reward any one thing, engagement not factualness or public good,” said Ahmed.

You can follow the Center for Countering Digital Hate on social media to see the efforts to fight anti-vax profits.