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An anti-vaccine film targeted to Black Americans spreads false information

Will Stone, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

“We’re in this moment where we’re having some necessary discussions about health equity,” said Victor Agbafe, a medical student at the University of Michigan. “It’s not a good thing to sort of exploit that as a means to undermine trust in the vaccine today, instead of focusing on how we can make the vaccine more accessible for all communities.”

Agbafe, who helps lead his school’s Black medical student association, was surprised to get an email from Children’s Health Defense asking him to promote the movie among his peers.

When it was released, the film did not seem to gain much traction on major social media platforms such as Twitter, although tracking how often this kind of video is being shared privately can be difficult, said Kolina Koltai, a University of Washington researcher who studies the anti-vaccine movement online.

But Kennedy’s anti-vaccine activities during the pandemic involve more than this movie.

In February, he was banned from Instagram for posting misinformation on vaccines, but he still has a home on Facebook and Twitter. Ahmed’s organization has labeled Kennedy one of the “disinformation dozen” — a group of people responsible for 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.

In a recent webinar about the film, Kennedy said those who agree with the film need to use “the tools of advocacy that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about” and promote it “guerrilla-style” against the “darkening cloud of totalitarianism.”

 

Although more than half of American adults have gotten a covid vaccine, demand is falling fast, and polls show almost one-third of adults still either want to “wait and see” or do not want to get the shot. When asked why, many say the vaccine is unsafe, based on false conspiracy theories.

“I see the downstream ripple effects of disinformation every day in practice, every day in the patients’ lives I treat,” said Dr. Atul Nakhasi with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and co-founder of the online campaign #ThisIsOurShot, which aims to encourage trust in the covid vaccines.

“We know people have uncertainties, and we need to acknowledge that and have humble, respectful conversations, but for someone to actively subvert that trust is unconscionable,” Nakhasi said.

According to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the ideal strategy for stopping the spread of online misinformation is to cut it off at the source: meaning “deplatform” the most notorious spreaders of that information so they can’t gain a following on social media in the first place. But Ahmed said that all too often tech companies don’t take those steps themselves. In that case, the next best tactic is to try to “inoculate” people against false and misleading claims.

“You tell people in advance, ‘Hey, something terrible is happening. Be careful — they’re targeting you,'” Ahmed said.

(c)2021 Kaiser Health News Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC