“Vaccine Genocide”: More and more vaccine disinformation on Facebook

In view of the declining willingness to vaccinate throughout the EU, experts from the CounterAction consultancy have looked for reasons for this in social networks, in which opinions are often helped to shape. They struck gold on Facebook, among other places.

“The volume of public Facebook postings that contain potentially harmful disinformation about vaccines” has risen rapidly in all EU languages ​​examined since September, explained Felix Kartte from CounterAction to the “Playbook” newsletter service of “Politico” magazine. The numbers have gone up especially since a first promising vaccine against the novel coronavirus was announced.

The company has searched thousands of open groups and pages on Facebook for vaccine-related content, according to the consultant. In Germany, according to the report, the observers found more than 30,000 postings with false information on this topic. For example, users compared vaccinations with the Holocaust, talking about a “vaccine genocide”. There was also anti-Semitic content about an alleged Zionist conspiracy.

The analysts also often came across false health information in German-language articles. These include the claim that vaccines caused cancer.

According to the study, two million Germans belong to such groups. In France there are circles on Facebook in which zinc or vitamin D are advertised as effective drugs against Covid-19, according to the report. In some cases the rumor is spread that vaccines are being developed to “make blacks die out”. Such groups would have 200,000 or more members. Members also often communicated with forums, for example in African countries, which did not speak well of the former colonial power France.

The disinformation narratives discovered are quite similar across national and linguistic boundaries. Even the automatic translation function of Facebook “makes it easy to share content in different languages”, according to the study. In several Czech groups “sharing of fraudulent posts in several foreign languages”, including French, German and Italian, was observed.

The Kremlin-affiliated online services Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik were among the media that were most shared in all European anti-vaccination groups. “Many of these posts have been on Facebook since March, although they are incredibly easy to find,” said Kartte, who previously worked for the European External Action Service. Most of the content is not illegal. However, the network advertising operator causes “massive damage”, especially for risk groups, if he allows such posts to circulate freely and, in some cases, algorithmically increases their distribution.

Facebook has voluntarily committed itself to a self-regulation code in the fight against disinformation vis-à-vis the EU Commission. The merger with other platforms such as Google and Twitter is seen by the Brussels government institution as a last chance to avoid legislative steps towards more transparency around algorithms and approaches to moderating content.

Facebook’s head of the EU relations lobby team, Aura Salla, told Playbook that “we have taken strong steps to curb the spread of misinformation about the virus.” Posts “that could lead to imminent physical damage would be deleted. These included false references to preventive measures or claims that Sars-Cov-2 does not exist.

According to Salla, the company deleted over 12 million postings on Facebook and Instagram between March and October. For other problematic content such as “conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus” they work with more than 80 partners to test the facts. “In this context, 167 million pieces of content were provided with warnings.

The dispute over Holocaust deniers on Facebook shows that self-regulation does not always work well and quickly. In mid-October, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a change of course here after many years to delete such posts. But at least until mid-November, according to the magazine “The Markup” numerous Facebook pages for well-known Holocaust denier groups are still active. Users who encounter it should continue to use the platform’s algorithms to display similar content, creating a network for disseminating anti-Semitic content. Zuckerberg had previously indicated that the internal guidelines would first have to be updated and the program routines retrained.


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