- 12 people are responsible for the majority of COVID-19 disinformation being spread online, a CCDH study found.
- Number one is Joseph Mercola, a natural health doctor who publishes anti-vaxx claims to a following of 3.6 million on social media.
- One of Mercola’s articles, “Could Hydrogen Peroxide Treat Coronavirus?”, was shared nearly 5,000 times on Facebook.
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A March report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that most COVID-19 disinformation online is being spread by just 12 people. A Facebook analysis found that 73% of 689,000 anti-coronavirus vaccinations posts shared between February and mid-March came from this group.
Among the 12 are Robert F Kennedy Jr, the nephew of former President John F Kennedy, who has been an anti-vaxxer long before the pandemic. In the 1990s, Kennedy Jr began to spread disinformation that some vaccines given in childhood were connected to autism diagnoses and the development of allergies.
More recently, in a letter addressed to President Biden, Kennedy Jr. claimed that the CDC is administering propaganda and that “the sad reality is vaccines cause injuries and death.” Later in the same letter, however, he also wrote that it’d be impossible for autopsies determine if death was caused by a “vaccine adverse event.”
But beating Robert F Kennedy Jr to the No. 1 spot in the ‘disinformation dozen’ is Joseph Mercola, a natural health doctor based in Cape Coral, Florida.
Mercola is no newcomer to the anti-vaxx movement
According to the New York Times, Mercola has built his career on far-fetched health notions, including claims that spring mattresses amplify radiation and that tanning beds can reduce the chance of getting cancer. Cashing in on his followers, he sold them at-home tanning beds that cost between $US1,200 ($AU1,632) and $US4,000 ($AU5,439). He was then sued by the Federal Trading Commission and agreed to pay his customers refunds totaling $US5.3 ($AU7) million, according to a 2016 report from the Chicago Tribune.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Mercola has focused his zeal against COVID vaccines.
Articles published on his website include “Thyme Extract Helps Treat COVID-19” and another titled “Could Hydrogen Peroxide Treat Coronavirus?” which was published in April and shared on Facebook 4,600 times, according to screenshots in the CCDH’s report.
Mercola later removed the hydrogen peroxide article, and others, from his site, due to what he called the “fearmongering media and corrupt politicians” censoring his content, which he alleges have led to personal threats.
US health officials have called out social media platforms and conservative news outlets, like Fox News, for their role in allowing the spread of vaccination misinformation, especially as new cases are again on the rise.
Over the past week, the US reported an average of nearly 50,000 new COVID-19 infections each day, according to CDC data. The rise in new infections come amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant of the disease. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky previously called the uptick in cases a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
With an audience of 3.6 million over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the CCDH report found that Mercola has been the most far-reaching spreader of COVID disinformation.
In an emailed response to the Times, Mercola said it was “quite peculiar to me that I am named as the #1 superspreader of misinformation.”
While some social media platforms have taken steps to identify and remove disinformation, many of the 12 people’s accounts are still active, including Mercola’s, where he often shared multiple posts a day.