Report: Here are the 12 people most responsible for spreading COVID misinformation

covid misinformation bollinger
Photo via Ty Charlene Bollinger/Facebook

On social media, misinformation often runs rampant, especially during conflicting times such as the COVID pandemic. Many people believe whatever they see on the web, so long as it aligns with what they want to believe. Or who they want to believe.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are receiving information on various important topics such as case rates and vaccine safety from all kinds of sources, and sometimes it can be hard to tell what’s factual and what’s fake.

A report shows that the majority of COVID misinformation was spread by 12 people, dubbed “The Disinformation Dozen.” 

Compiled by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a U.K./U.S. nonprofit, the report suggests that almost two-thirds of anti-vaccine content circulating on social media stemmed from 12 anti-vaxxers. The Disinformation Dozen were selected because they have large followings on social media, produce high volumes of anti-vaccine content, or saw rapid growth of their social media accounts from February-March 2021.

Here is who the CCDH deemed the Disinformation Dozen.

  1. Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician and major proponent of “natural health”
  2. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of Robert F. Kennedy and an environmental lawyer and the founder of Children’s Health Defense
  3. Ty and Charlene Bollinger, self-acclaimed filmmakers and founders of the docuseries The Truth about Cancer
  4. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician who believes vaccines cause autism
  5. Rizza Islam, an antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ social media influencer who targets his anti-vaccine messaging to the Black community
  6. Rashid Buttar, an osteopathic physician known for using chelation therapy for numerous conditions, including autism and cancer
  7. Erin Elizabeth, runs an alternative health site called “Health Nut News” who has also shared antisemitic posts
  8. Sayer Ji, the founder of GreenMedInfo, a popular alternative medicine portal
  9. Kelly Brogan, an author of books on alternative medicine, such as Mind of Your Own
  10. Christiane Northrup, an obstetrics and gynecology physician and author who has embraced pseudoscientific alternative medicine theories
  11. Ben Tapper, who works as a chiropractor and founded The Wellness Pointe
  12. Kevin Jenkins, a social epidemiologist focused on inequities in healthcare

An analysis of anti-vaccine content shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between February 1-March 16 shows that 65% of that content was attributable to the Dozen, according to the report. Up to 73% of the 689,000 times that anti-vaccine content was posted to Facebook and up to 17% of more than 120,000 anti-vaccine tweets during that time frame originated from the Dozen.

Despite reportedly violating Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter’s terms of service agreements multiple times, nine of the Dozen still have accounts on all three platforms. The other three have been removed from just one platform each. 

According to a Vice report, many of the dozen are intertwined with each, and the Bollingers “have been making huge profits from selling anti-vax disinformation videos. … Part of their scheme was to pay affiliates, including renowned anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr., to promote the videos to their online followings in exchange for.a cut of the profits. An archived version of a site tracking the success of the affiliate marketers shows that [Erin] Elizabeth was one of the top earners.”

Research from CCDH in 2020 indicates that social media platforms don’t act on up to 95% of reported COVID misinformation.

Misinformation is only growing, as 425 anti-vaxxer accounts had a cumulative 59.2 million followers as of December 2020; this was an increase of 877,000 since June of the same year.

The dozen have also caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who said, “These 12 people are out there giving misinformation. Anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It’s killing people. It’s bad information.”

Read more on the coronavirus vaccines:

 Sources: CCDH, Vice, CNBC

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