Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
An anti-vaccine Facebook group and network of 17 affiliated state-specific groups have been using the social media platform to spread coronavirus conspiracy theories and misinformation, including a viral video falsely claiming that wearing masks could increase chances of getting coronavirus.
United States for Medical Freedom is a Facebook group with over 28,000 members that uses seemingly benign language to obfuscate its anti-vaccine message, claiming that its goal is to fight for "Medical Freedom & Autonomy." Since the group was created in September, members and the administrators of United States for Medical Freedom have frequently posted about opposition to vaccines, including misinformation about vaccines and calls to action against vaccination policies. One of its administrators claimed she testified on behalf of the group against Massachusetts bills regulating vaccinations necessary to enroll in school.
Along with this group, there are at least 17 additional groups representing different states in a network with almost 10,000 members combined. Nearly all of these groups are run by teams that include two of the administrators of United States for Medical Freedom, making it very easy to spread misinformation around the network.
9 of 17 state-specific Facebook groups affiliated with United States for Medical Freedom
For example, one of these administrators utilized this network to quickly spread a video filled with misinformation -- including false claims that COVID-19 is no different than the flu and that wearing masks increase the chances of people getting the virus -- posting it in 11 of these groups within minutes.
Administrator Lori Jean shared her post from United States for Medical Freedom in 11 state-specific groups
Health care professionals have reported the dangerous effects of these conspiracy theories and misinformation spreading on social media, ranging from their experiences receiving online harassment from conspiracy theorists to "regularly" treating "patients who had sought care too late because of conspiracy theories spread on social media."
When the first cases of COVID-19 were announced in the United States at the end of January, posts hinting at a conspiracy theory blaming Bill Gates for the pandemic immediately emerged in the group. Other posts alluded to different conspiracy theories about the origin of the novel coronavirus, attempted to discredit National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and promoted medical misinformation, such as unproven treatments or supposed preventative measures for COVID-19.
As protests began in different states against local stay-at-home orders, the Facebook network quickly supported and amplified these efforts -- particularly the Texas for Medical Freedom and New Jersey for Medical Freedom groups. Notably, these two groups constitute the majority of members across the 17 state Facebook network.
In addition to amplifying other protest efforts, the Texas for Medical Freedom administrators also hosted a protest in Austin, Texas, on April 16. These administrators are also encouraging members to defy stay-at-home orders and join protesters, many of them armed, to defend business owners who are reopening in defiance of current Texas guidelines. In a series of posts and live videos, the group's administrator Lori Jean encouraged people to rally in support of Shelley Luther, who opened her hair salon in Dallas and gained national attention after she was arrested.
New Jersey for Medical Freedom also hosted a protest against state stay-at-home orders, and the group's administrator Ayla Wolf has been involved in organizing events with the Facebook group Reopen NJ. Wolf even spoke at one of the events and has claimed that she was criminally charged for organizing a protest.
In another example of how these groups spread misinformation, a video featuring a range of conspiracy theories and debunked medical misinformation was shared across this network. The video earned more than 9 million views on YouTube and more than 16 million Facebook engagements before the platforms announced that they would remove the video and any reposts. Notably, the video was posted at least 27 times in United States for Medical Freedom and its state groups.
13 of 27 posts in United States for Medical Freedom and its 17 state-specific Facebook groups linking to the video
Even before the video, many of the conspiracy theories and misinformation it promoted were already circulating within the network of 18 anti-vaccine Facebook groups. Here are some of the posts with the most egregious examples.
False claim: The coronavirus is actually a bioweapon
False claim: 5G technology causes COVID-19
False claim: The pandemic was planned to create a global surveillance state with 5G technology
False claim: Governments are using the virus as an excuse for mass surveillance
False claim: Bill Gates planned the pandemic for population control
False claim: The pandemic was planned by Gates to force a vaccine on people
False claim: The pandemic was planned by the 'deep state' as part of the QAnon conspiracy theory
False claim: The pandemic was planned by Gates to implant people with microchips
False claim: The flu vaccine increases the odds of people getting COVID-19
False claim: Wearing a mask actually makes people unhealthy or more susceptible to the virus
- The Media Personalities Profiteering From Coronavirus Scams And ... ›
- Religious Right Radio Network Broadcasts Lethal Lies About ... ›
- Conspiracist Alex Jones Launches Deranged Attack On Bill Gates ... ›
- Fox News Falsehoods About Virus Masks Are A Public Health Menace ›
- Those Who Want Coronavirus Vaccine Should Get It First ›
- Facebook Permits Promotion Of Campaign To Ditch Face Masks En Masse - National Memo ›
- Dangerous Anti-Vaccination Protest Promoted By QAnon - National Memo ›
- Banned By Facebook, Anti-Vax Misinformer Moved To New Page - National Memo ›
- #EndorseThis: Seth Meyers Rips Texas And Mississippi Decisions To Reopen - National Memo ›
- Trump Ally Kobach Marketed Dubious Product That ‘Kills COVID’ To Kansas Legislators ›
- Tucker Carlson Ignites Outrage With Deceptive Anti-Vax Tirade - National Memo ›
- Banned From Facebook, 'Former Guy' Will Return Via Lara Trump’s Pages - National Memo ›
- #EndorseThis: Trevor Noah Breaks Down 'Biggest and Best' Conspiracy Theories - National Memo ›
- Ted Nugent, Anti-Masker And Vaccine Skeptic, Gets Covid: ‘I Thought I Was Dying’ - National Memo ›
- Deceptive Anti-Vax Propaganda Still Proliferating On Facebook - National Memo ›
- GOP Anti-Vaxxers Are Destroying America's Hope For Herd Immunity - National Memo ›
- While Facebook Reconsiders Trump Account, He’s Still Promoting Lies - National Memo ›
- Republicans Declare War On Facebook Over Trump Ban - National Memo ›
- Let’s Mock The Idiots Who Think Vaccines Are More Dangerous Than Covid-19 - National Memo ›
- Tucker Carlson’s Big Vaccine Lie Could Kill Thousands ›
- Fox Promotes Disgraced Trump CDC Appointee Who Minimized Covid Crisis - National Memo ›
- Far Right’s Covid Conspiracy Blames Fauci For Virus - National Memo ›
- Fauci Brushes Off GOP Senator’s Conspiracy 'Question' At Hearing - National Memo ›
- Unvaccinated Republican Leads Anti-Mask Tantrum On House Floor - National Memo ›
- How Do We Finally Crush The Virus? A $50 Million Lottery! - National Memo ›
- Why Facebook Should Ban Trump Permanently - National Memo ›
- WATCH: Anti-Vaxxer’s Testimony In Ohio Legislature Goes Seriously Wrong - National Memo ›
- At Indiana, A Few Vaccine Resisters Have A Lot To Learn - National Memo ›
- Wisconsin Doctors Sla percent Johnson For Hosting Anti-Vaccination Event - National Memo ›
- Right-Wing Propaganda Outlets Intensify Schizoid Vaccine Scare - National Memo ›
- While GOP Pushes Anti-Vax Message, McConnell Claims To Be ‘Perplexed’ - National Memo ›
- Utah’s GOP Governor Blasts Right-Wing Anti-Vax Propaganda - National Memo ›
- Poll: Unlike Other Americans, Republicans Increasingly Reject Science - National Memo ›
- Study: Right-Wing Media Promote Conspiracies And Distrust In Health Officials - National Memo ›
- Huckabee Sanders Tries To Blame Biden For Anti-Vax Persistence - National Memo ›
- Vaccine Or Viagra: COVID-19 Can Cause ’Severe Erectile Dysfunction’ - National Memo ›
- How Pharma's Greed Is Blocking Vaccination For The Whole World - National Memo ›
- #EndorseThis: Watch Former Anti-Vaxxers Who Survived COVID Plead For Sanity - National Memo ›
- New Anti-Vax Disinformation Video Got 30 Million Views On Social Media ›
- #EndorseThis: Klepper Reasons With Unreasonable Anti-Vax Fanatics ›
- LISTEN: Sen. Johnson Says 'Try A Bunch' Of Debunked COVID 'Treatments' ›
- White Nationalist Gab Now Sabotaging Vaccination Effort ›
- ‘For God’s Sake’: GOP Governor Rips ‘Crazy’ Vaccine Conspiracies ›
- Coronavirus 'Karen' Memes Are Everywhere - The Atlantic ›
- Karen: The speak-to-the-manager anti-vaxxer mom turned meme - Vox ›
- Top 10 Pro-Vaccine (or Anti Anti-Vaxxer) Memes on the Internet ... ›
- California anti-vaccine doctor makes light of coronavirus | The ... ›
- Anti-vaxxers Andrew Wakefield, RFK Jr. resist coronavirus vaccine ... ›
- Could the new coronavirus weaken 'anti-vaxxers'? - Reuters ›
- Anti-vaxxers spread fear about future coronavirus vaccine - CBS News ›
- “A Fake Pandemic”: Anti-Vaxxers Are Spreading Coronavirus ... ›