The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

United States for Medical Freedom logo

Photo source: US4MF Facebook page

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.

Image of 9 Facebook groups

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.

image of 12 identical posts

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.

Image of post in facebook group

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

Image of post on Facebook group

False claim: 5G technology causes COVID-19

Image of post in Facebook group

False claim: The pandemic was planned to create a global surveillance state with 5G technology

Image of post in Facebook group

False claim: Governments are using the virus as an excuse for mass surveillance

Image of post in Facebook groupImage of post in Facebook group

False claim: Bill Gates planned the pandemic for population control

Image of post in Facebook group

False claim: The pandemic was planned by Gates to force a vaccine on people

Image of post in Facebook groupImage of post in Facebook group

False claim: The pandemic was planned by the 'deep state' as part of the QAnon conspiracy theory

Image of post in Facebook group

False claim: The pandemic was planned by Gates to implant people with microchips

Image of post in Facebook groupImage of post in Facebook group

False claim: The flu vaccine increases the odds of people getting COVID-19

Image of post in Facebook groupImage of post in Facebook group

False claim: Wearing a mask actually makes people unhealthy or more susceptible to the virus

Image of post in Facebook groupImage of post in Facebook groupImage of post in Facebook group

From Your Site Articles
Related Articles Around the Web


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

Keep reading... Show less

Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}