Facebook has barely taken any action in response to Media Matters’ July 20 report on anti-vaccine groups spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation; nearly 85% of anti-vaccine groups that we identified are still active, new groups have been created, and some were even reinstated after appeal.
On July 20, Media Matters reported that we had identified at least 284 public and private anti-vaccine Facebook groups -- more than double the 117 anti-vaccine groups we reported on in April -- that were spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and/or conspiracy theories to over 520,000 combined members. This report followed the Biden administration’s criticism of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation spreading on social media, particularly Facebook.
A week after our reporting, Facebook has barely taken action against the groups, even though the platform told Fast Company that it was “reviewing the report, and will take action against groups that violate our policies.” Of the 284 private and public groups we identified that contained misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine, 236 groups -- or nearly 85% -- are still active on the platform and have gained nearly 20,000 more members. We have also identified 35 additional anti-vaccine groups, including five groups that were created since July 18. These 271 active anti-vaccine groups have over 456,000 combined members.
In our previous report, Media Matters specifically identified six groups with over 15,000 members apiece. Of these groups, only one -- Canadian Deaths and Adverse Reactions -- is no longer active, and two -- Covid19 Vaccine Victims & Families and The Unvaccinated Arms -- appear to have been briefly taken down and then reinstated.
An administrator for Covid19 Vaccine Victims & Families boasted that the group was reinstated after he appealed Facebook’s decision to remove it. The group has since gained roughly 9,000 members, totaling over 57,000 members.
The Unvaccinated Arms was reportedly taken down but is currently active, with an administrator encouraging members to use a backup group and a moderator of the backup group reminding members to use code words to avoid removal. The group has over 21,000 members, and the backup group, which was created July 18, already has over 11,000 members.
Facebook’s inaction against anti-vaccine groups is part of the company's pattern of refusing to combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Even after the Biden administration publicly criticized Facebook, the platform also has failed to deplatform the “disinformation dozen” -- 12 influencers who reportedly account for 65% of vaccine misinformation on Facebook and Twitter. Nearly all of them have been able to maintain a presence on Facebook and/or Instagram despite their role in regularly spreading misinformation:
- Joseph Mercola runs a verified Facebook page with 1.7 million followers and a verified Instagram account with 336,000 followers. He continues to post misinformation about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine on both platforms.
- Sherri Tenpenny has had at least one Facebook page and one Instagram account removed, but she appears to be affiliated with at least one other Facebook profile and one other Facebook page for a website that she owns and operates. She uses both accounts to promote her podcast, in which she and other anti-vaccine figures push COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.
- Rizza Islam has had at least one Facebook account and one Instagram account removed, but he appears to still have a Facebook profile with over 30,000 followers.
- Rashid Buttar has had at least one Facebook account and one Instagram account removed, but he appears to still have a Facebook profile and to be affiliated with a public Facebook group.
- Christiane Northrup runs a verified Facebook page with over 550,000 followers, even though she has had an Instagram account removed.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is affiliated with at least two Facebook pages that are still active, even though he has been banned on Instagram. One Facebook page for him has over 300,000 followers, and one Facebook page for his organization Children’s Health Defense has over 160,000 followers.
- Ty and Charlene Bollinger are affiliated with at least three Facebook pages and two Instagram accounts that are still active, even though at least one of their Instagram accounts has been removed. The Facebook pages have a combined total of over 1.2 million followers and the Instagram accounts have over 124,000 total followers.
- Sayer Ji and his website GreenMedInfo both have Facebook pages, even though Instagram removed at least one account for GreenMedInfo. Ji’s wife Kelly Brogan, who is also considered one of the “disinformation dozen,” still has an Instagram account, which she uses to post anti-mask content and COVID-19 misinformation.
- Ben Tapper has at least one Facebook page and one Facebook profile, but he claims that Instagram removed his account and backup accounts.
- Kevin Jenkins and his organization Urban Global Health Alliance each have a Facebook page and an Instagram account.
Facebook’s failure to take action against anti-vaccine groups and figures on its platforms is just another example of the company refusing to take any concrete actions to address its persistent, and deadly, problems.