'We are talking about people’s lives,' dire warnings of public health crisis as COVID vaccine misinformation rages

USA Today
December 09, 2020

Hours after Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother from the United Kingdom, became the first person to get the COVID-19 vaccine, anti-vaxxers claimed she didn’t exist, that she was dead and that she was part of a Bill Gates scheme to implant microchips.

A USA TODAY analysis of one popular tweet claiming Keenan was a "crisis actress" shows how quickly this misinformation can spread. 

A tweet shared by @bankiegirl at 2:38pm UK time on Dec. 8 received over 400 retweets from accounts sharing hashtags like #DoNotComply and #WeDoNotConsent. 

Before that time the next day, more than 475,000 Twitter users had been potentially exposed, a number calculated by adding up the total number of followers of each account that retweeted @bankiegirl's post...

Still, an untold number of smaller anti-vaccination groups continue to operate and, because they are more adept at spreading their message, they are reaching more people than their pro-vaccination counterparts, researchers say.

Neil Johnson, a professor of physics at George Washington University who studies online extremism, says the anti-vaxxer movement is fueling vaccine hesitancy.

A report by the London-based nonprofit organization Center for Countering Digital Hate found that the anti-vaccination movement has grown since 2019. The investigation of 409 English-language anti-vaxx social media accounts found that these accounts now have 58 million followers, an increase of 8 million.

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