Just two, according to one published on November 13 in the journal Vaccine The study was responsible for the bulk of advertising against vaccines on Facebook, before the social media giant restricted such content in March this year.
Out of 1
The World Mercury Project, where most of the ads were viewed from a source, is an organization that works closely with Children's Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group. Both are led by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an environmental lawyer who has become a prolific distributor of dangerous vaccine misinformation. He and his organizations are promoting conspiracy theories on vaccine safety, including the bluntly outspoken claim that safe, life-saving vaccinations are linked to autism. More recently, Kennedy has become a well-known opponent of laws to increase vaccination rates among schoolchildren.
Stop Mandatory Vaccination is a for-profit company run by a man named Larry Cook. He also trumpets vaccine misinformation and anxiety. On Facebook and other platforms, Cook is running ads and campaigns that create a dubious connection between vaccines and tragic infant deaths. One such ad was banned last year by the UK Advertising Standards Authority. The regulator found that the ad was "misleading", "unfounded" and "likely to be unreasonably onerous". In other cases, he claimed that the medical community working on the vaccine covered up the "slaughtering" of children.
Cook has raised tens of thousands of dollars by crowdfunding. (He was banned by GoFundMe earlier this year). The money goes not only to Cook's disturbing anti-vaccination disinformation campaigns, but also to his own pockets. In an interview with The Daily Beast in February, Cook did not disclose how much of the donations he receives from himself and how much of his vaccination activities are going. He told the sales outlet, "I'm not a charitable organization, I do not have to report income – we're in a capitalist society and anyone can raise and spend money the way we want."
The academic study, which draws attention to Kennedy and Cook's efforts, is based on data from the Facebook Ad Library. The library is an open, searchable collection of advertisements that the social media giant considers to be politically and "nationally significant." Facebook set up the repository to appear more transparent in the aftermath of scandals due to the misappropriation of data by Cambridge Analytica and the discovery that Russian activists had used Facebook ads as a weapon to interfere with US politics.
Although vague and incomplete, the data clearly show that vaccine propaganda has been unified to promote perceived damage from vaccines, conspiracy theories, and the idea of vaccine selection.
Compared to Facebook vaccine advertising, vaccine advertising had slightly higher budgets and more reach. Anti-vaccine ads also had fewer sponsors – 27 clear buyers of 145 anti-vaccine ads compared to 83 distinct buyers of 163 Pro vaccine ads.
The authors of the study, led by public health researchers from the University of Maryland, criticized Facebook for further politicizing the undisputed issue of life-saving vaccinations. They conclude that "the extent to which Facebook's advertising in conjunction with other social media channels undermines public trust in immunization and public health officials are not only worrying."
Post-Study After this was completed, Facebook announced a raid on false vaccine information. Although some of the changes came into effect – including the banning of some advertisements – the authors cautiously state that "the full effect of these guidelines is yet to be seen".
Vaccine, 2019. DOI: 10.1016 / j.vaccine.2019.10 .066 (About DOIs).