The Disinformation Dozen

Well, we are beginning to understand how the Internet–and especially social media–supercharge disinformation, also known as propaganda.

The Guardian has recently reported on research issued by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) a nonprofit operating in the United States and United Kingdom.The organization found that the vast majority of anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories began from just 12 people, dubbed the “disinformation dozen.”

When you think about it, that’s pretty stunning. Twelve people have been able to harness new technologies to feed America’s already simmering and irrational paranoia. Those twelve people have a combined following of 59 million people across multiple social media platforms.

The largest influence by far was Facebook.

CCDH analyzed 812,000 Facebook posts and tweets and found 65% came from the disinformation dozen. Vivek Murthy, US surgeon general, and Joe Biden focused on misinformation around vaccines this week as a driving force of the virus spreading.

On Facebook alone, the dozen are responsible for 73% of all anti-vaccine content, though the vaccines have been deemed safe and effective by the US government and its regulatory agencies. And 95% of the Covid misinformation reported on these platforms were not removed.

Among the dozen are physicians that have embraced pseudoscience, a bodybuilder, a wellness blogger, a religious zealot, and, most notably Robert F Kennedy Jr, the nephew of John F Kennedy who has also linked vaccines to autism and 5G broadband cellular networks to the coronavirus pandemic.

(As an aside, this isn’t Robert Kennedy’s first departure from reality; Kennedy –NO relation!– has long been on a voyage to la la land…He’s been removed from Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, but he’s still on Facebook.)

CCDH has called on Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to completely deplatform the dozen, pointing out that they are instrumental in creating vaccine hesitancy at a crucial moment in the pandemic.

“Updated policies and statements hold little value unless they are strongly and consistently enforced,” the report said. “With the vast majority of harmful content being spread by a select number of accounts, removing those few most dangerous individuals and groups can significantly reduce the amount of disinformation being spread across platforms.”

Unfortunately, Facebook’s ability to generate profits is dependent upon its ability to “engage” users–and that militates against removing material that millions of those users are seeking, in order to justify otherwise insane behaviors.

I have posted before about my inability to understand those who refuse to get vaccinated–the willing audience for the “disinformation dozen.” With the exception of people with genuine medical issues, the justifications are mostly ludicrous (I particularly like the picture of a man eating chicken McNuggets and drinking an energy drink who says he wants to know what he’s putting in his body…) As a pretty hardcore civil libertarian, I can attest to the fact that the Bill of Rights does not protect our right to infect our neighbors.

These folks aren’t simply irrational–they’re dangerous and anti-social.

Reading this report made me feel helpless–a reaction I probably share with many. We clever humans have produced wondrous tools since those first stone axes. What we haven’t been able to do is improve our social maturity at an equal pace. We are at a juncture where our technologies have far outstripped our abilities to use them wisely.

One of the most stunning realizations of the past few years has been just how widespread  individual and social dysfunctions really are–and how powerless we seem to be in the face of fear and tribalism.

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “The Disinformation Dozen

  1. WOW! Only 12… Gosh, I wish I knew who they were so that they’d promote my books. I could be on Oprah’s show!

    Did you all see the news blip that said that in a remote part of Missouri that a clinic has set up private rooms for COVID vaccinations? Why private (?) you may ask. Well, the people there wanting to be vaccinated didn’t want anyone else to know that they were getting the shots. REALLY!

    Yes. Here we are, disinformation central, while the rest of the world is begging for vaccines. WTF?

  2. I have been questioning the Internet, especially Facebook, being blamed for all of the disinformation resulting in the anti-abortion anti-vaxxers and support to suppress voter registration, supporting Trump, et al for upholding the “big lie” because I haven’t seen this to be the problem on my Facebook page. I finally realized that the few I did see, which I found offensive and untrue, all have those three little dots in the upper right corner of their post. I have clicked on them and opted to hide or stop receiving all similar posts.

    I did receive a blatant GOP post on Facebook yesterday which DENIED my option to not receive other posts from that source. I will just scroll past if or when they appear. We do have the option to ignore lies and the ability to speak out against them. Sadly, freedom of speech doesn’t require truth or facts; nor does it demand we are required to read or listen to it. The weak-minded, like the poor, will always be with us.

  3. I’ve ranted about the evils of Facebook in comments on this blog and will spare you another one but this thought occurred to me after reading Professor’s essay: Facebook isn’t doing anything that Fox “News” hasn’t been doing for over 30 years: Merchandising propaganda and lies for profit.

    Facebook isn’t a real publicly-traded company because its founder and CEO owns 52% of its outstanding shares so we can dispense with the usual nonsense about the social responsibilities of such a corporation and its board of directors. This is about the brain and values one of young man, Mark Zuckerberg. And Mark is a very bright guy because he KNOWS that if he were to approve closing the accounts, deleting the posts, or just stop ACCELERATING the posts of the dirty dozen, his business would take a significant advertising revenue hit. Not only directly from the loss of the millions of views of the posts but from the back-lash arising from followers of Q and the former guy who would immediately terminate their accounts.

    But Mark certainly isn’t doing this alone. His mentor and model is Rupert Murdoch, who accomplished the same thing on what is now a more traditional platform – network television – but what was revolutionary in its day: cable TV.

    And both should be dealt with similarly:

    Facebook should be considered a media company pure and simple. They hide behind this curtain that they’re just a platform for others to post cat videos. But the fact is that Facebook performs a “programming” role using AI-based algorithms to promote posts which will generate ad revenue and they have become very good at this. Moreover, once certain accounts such as any one of the dirty dozen reach millions of followers, Facebook has essentially created a lucrative media franchise which is an essential part of its business model and ecosystem. It has created a number of billionaires and too many millionaires to count.

    Next, Congress must reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, and re-empower the FCC to levy fines and yank licenses if media companies profit from promoting lies and propaganda. Every other democratic republic in the G20 does this, including Canada. Last, hold platforms like FOX, Facebook and many other smaller propaganda machines accountable to their media licenses.

    As Wayne Campbell of “Wayne’s World” once said: “And monkeys might fly out of my butt”.

    Well, sorry, it wasn’t a rant but it was just as long.

  4. I have a file saved to my iPad but since I can’t add the file, I’ll type it out for you. These are the dirty dozen.

    1. Joseph Mercola
    2. Robert F. Kennedy Jr
    3. Ty and Charleen Bollinger
    4. Sherri Tenpenny
    5. Rizza Islam
    6. Archie Buttar
    7. Erin Elizabeth
    8. Sayer Ji
    9. Kelly Brogan
    10. Christiane Northrop
    11. Ben Tapper
    12. Kevin Jenkins

    I wonder if some of those names are real. Erin Elizabeth?

  5. In 1988, Andrew Wakefield published an article in the “Lancet”, which is Great Britain’s version of the “New England Journal of Medicine.” In that article, Dr. Wakefield maintained that certain vaccines led to the development of autism in children. That led to the initial anti-vaxxer stupidity around the world. Dr. Wakefield doctored his data to come to his preferred conclusion. “Lancet” published a retraction, Wakefield lost his British medical license, but the damage was done. Now we have millions of newcomers to the anti-vax movement joining the likes of Jenny McCarthy in distrust of science. They are doing it to honor their fearless leader, who has gotten the vaccine and who survived a bout with the deadly disease (even more proof of just how special he is).

    Asking Facebook to beat back stupidity is obviously fruitless as it would likely go out of business if it had to do that. They used to say we would counter bad speech with good speech, but that was back in the day when we were capable of discernment of good and/or bad. We need a new slogan: “Make America Smart” (Sorry I can’t add Again, since I’m not convinced we ever were smart, but it seems we have been smarter).

  6. Dr. Brytney Cobia is a hospitalist is at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Ala.

    A doctor in Alabama pleaded on Facebook this week for Covid-19 skeptics to get vaccinated — unlike some of her patients who paid the ultimate price.

    “I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” she wrote.

    “A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same,” she posted.

    She also wrote in the post about difficult interactions with people who have lost loved ones to the deadly disease.

    “They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu,’” Cobia wrote.

    Cobia declined a request for an interview on Wednesday, telling NBC News via text that she’s been receiving “threatening messages.” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/it-s-too-late-alabama-doctor-shares-final-moments-covid-n1274659

    This news article has all the pieces, people who have gorged themselves on disinformation to fit their political, social and cultural bias rather than listening to the health care professionals.

    When that disinformation is exposed the threats start.

    There have always been people who are skeptical many have crossed the line to willful ignorance. We have people who believe in the young 10,000 year old earth and the Apollo Moon Landings were a Hoax.

    IMHO the willfully ignorant have found their leader in The Trumpet and the GOP is like The Trumpet’s ventriloquists Dummy.

  7. Peggy, I do not think we have been smarter. UFO’s and alien abduction? Elvis lives? Elvis’ face on Mars? JFK Lives? Hundreds of “Commies” in the Gov’t? The world is going to end on (pick a date). On and on…. Now, it appears, it is easier to see the absence of smartness.
    ML: “IMHO the willfully ignorant have found their leader in The Trumpet and the GOP is like The Trumpet’s ventriloquists Dummy.” Perfect!

  8. Aging Girl: At least one name on your list is real – Robert Kennedy Jr. He went off the deep end some time ago, so it is not surprising to see his name associated with the anti-vaccine movement.

  9. The MSM is clear that the US has the world’s most effective Covid 19 vaccines, 98% of Covid deaths in the US are among those who are unvaccinated, boosters may be needed to combat variants.

    With respect to Covid deaths per million population as of 7/22/21 (below data ), it is too early to declare victory in the US.

    In some countries, Covid is under control as gauged by deaths per million population:

    China. 3
    Vietnam. 4
    Australia. 36
    South Korea. 40
    Haiti. 44
    Thailand. 53
    Bangladesh 112
    Indonesia. 285
    Dominican Rep. 358
    Canada. 696
    Germany. 1,094
    Mexico. 1,819
    United States 1,879
    UK. 1,888

    Data source:
    https://ncov2019.live/

  10. I saw an interview on CBS news with a patient recovering from Covid. The reporter asked if he would now,get the vaccine. The response was no, because the vaccine is not fully approved by the FDA, but only approved for emergency use. When the reporter relayed this to the doctor that has been treating the patient, he told the reporter that the drugs used to treat the patient were also only approved for emergency use. I’m sure if the patient was told this bit of informstion it would make no difference in his decision to refuse the vaccine. There is no logics or rational thought in the minds of the refuseniks.

  11. Some people in this country are very gullible. Hence, their antivax attitude. I wonder how much of it is due to the social isolation in rural America. And to make matters worse, I don’t know how good the supply lines of the vaccine in rural areas are.

    I wonder if the dirty dozen on Facebook are aware they are propagating lies about the vaccine. If so, that makes them sociopaths. If not, well, I guess they must be paranoid. Paranoia really undermines good critical thinking.

    As for Zuckerburg and other CEO’s in this country, it’s obvious that we now put profit above truth, above the welfare of others. That too is sociopathic behavior. This profit mongering has even infected our health care system and health insurance companies. This has led to increasing distrust in patients.

    I wish we had a vaccine that protected people against lies and misinformation. As it is, our journalists and some comedians have become our social prophets.

    The only way these people would have been convinced to take the vaccine is if the government had made it a patriotic act and had an ad with the flag waving behind the message with a line of good citizens talking about getting the vaccine. And maybe nurses and doctors talking about how committed they are to keeping Americans healthy and saving lives. That’s the truthful propaganda we need now.

  12. Jan Lindemann. A more dire situation is the dying Covid patient on an ICU ventilator that is told by the hospital that there are no Covid therapeutics in its formulary.

    Though the patient’s physician has prescribed off-label use of an FDA-approved drug that is experimental for use as a Covid therapeutic, the hospital refuses to administer the drug.

    In some of those cases in New York and Illinois, patients have hired The Law Office of Ralph C. Lorigo of West Seneca, NY to sue the hospital and obtain a judicial order compelling the hospital to administer the therapeutic prescribed by the patient’s physician.

    https://www.lorigo.com

  13. AgingLGirl

    That’s a fascinating list. I like to think of myself as fairly media savvy and as someone who pays attention, but I only even recognize 1 name on that list. Bizarre that people can be that influential and have a fairly low profile.

  14. Here is a good summary of the pamphlet “Propaganda” that Edward Bernays, the father of modern advertising/propaganda/disinformation published in 1928. This was before social/entertainment media became absolutely pervasive in our lives.

    If you want to join the disinformation dozen here’s how.

    https://youtu.be/8Q-3qwEDyPM

  15. How can it possibly be legal to spread misinformation that is potentially deadly? Are we still debating whether science takes precedence over quackery? Even admission to elementary school is contingent on receipt of certain shots. During the Boxer Rebellion (as the 19th century turned into the 20th) China’s Empress Dowager assured her supporters that they need not fear enemy (including U.S. Marine) bullets (although some exercising was required). This advice didn’t turn out well for the Boxers or for the Empress.

    Some doctors have said that not getting a vaccination reduces your options to “when” you will get Covid, not “if”. Given that level of certainty, don’t we have a responsibility to protect people who are victims of misinformation? Seatbelt use is required by law in cars. Masks in airplanes. How can we require vaccination against smallpox but not Covid-19? I take no joy (well, not much) in seeing mindless Republicans or confused medical workers die a needless death. In vaccination cases, Justices Harlan and Brandeis concluded that the health of all prevailed over the ignorance of a few. Is that principle no longer valid?

  16. I find it interesting that the same people who are asking for ‘therapeutics’ to help them once they’ve gotten sick are the ones unwilling to take the vaccine. Even if they could get therapeutics, do they even know what’s in them? Have they even been tested as much as the vaccine?

  17. Anne Miller. I am confident that you as a compassionate and good hearted person, if your relative were hospitalized for three weeks with Covid, given a 20% chance of survival, and your family physician offered to you a drug approved 40 years earlier by FDA as safe and effective for another use, you would consider it.

    If she explained that this was “off-label” use of the drug, that the drug had been shown to be safe and effective for patients with Covid, and that she could only prescribe the drug after receiving “informed consent” for the off-label use of the drug from you, the patient’s relative, you would trust your physician’s advice and give that consent for use of the drug.

    This drug is considered a “therapeutic” for the treatment of Covid. There is an assortment if them you can discuss with your family physician.

  18. Since I always rant about false equivalency – “both the right and the left” – I must publicly state that Anti-Vaxxers are truly bipartisan with wackos on the Left and wackos on the Right both on board — and yes, this one started on the Left.

    I liked Birch Bayh – his son, not so much – I worked to elect Bobby Kennedy. I thought he would be a great President (as imperfect as he was) – His son is a wacko. Children don’t always inherit the best of their parents.

    Peggy brought up Wakefield. What she didn’t mention was the demand for an expensive study to prove that vaccination led to autism. The study didn’t show that, so the Wakefield fans demanded a recount — I mean they insisted on another expensive government-funded study. It too showed no connection. So guess what? Yes, they demanded a third study, only this time, the British government said no.

    On the hopeful news front, I read an item (uncorroborated) that Mayim Bialik, who not only played a neuroscientist on TV, but earned her PhD, said that she plans to get vaccinated for SARS-CoV2 and Influenza. She is a life-long anti-vaxxer and caused some controversy in the scientific community, with some feeling that she was using her celebrity to give credence to unscientific causes [disclosure note – although I currently work in IT, I am a retired neuroscientist]

  19. Many people receive side effects from medications including vaccines. In the midst of a pandemic where a gene to function bat virus has the potential to mutate and spread it is wise for the public to vaccinate as soon as possible if there aren’t any individual health issues known in regards to vaccines. Several companies during Project Warp-speed sought to procure their vaccine. Conspiracy theories in regard to vaccines from this should be easily refuted about vaccines but unfortunately many people believe what they find stimulating. I have relatives who have health issues with side effects. One relative who is highly reactive with side effects noted an ammonia smell, sometimes a smoke smell similar to those who contracted the Covid19 virus. Any interactions that the public has with the virus needs to be reported as the CDC requests.
    Politics played a huge role as the virus being a hoax was reported and many people latched on to this lie. The Presidents reaction to his getting the vaccine out was a hoax according to him. But some people who wanted to support the President said the virus was a hoax because thats what the media reported, yet another dangerous lie.
    Now that Biden has won the election hydrochloroquine is a theraputic that can once again be used to inhibit the SARS virus. The media in itself is dangerous to the population as it spreads lies to the oublic for its own political gain https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16115318/

  20. News reports questioning a Republican Congressman to why they aren’t vaccinated brought a plea for that Congressmans counterparts to report that they have been vaccinated instead of saying their personal health information is not anyone’s business. Also he was almost begging his constituency to get vaccinated pointing out that the delta variant is even more virulent in degree and transmissible.
    We should note that all science is a study of what is constantly changing in our environment. An environment that we can ultimately decide to control or be controlled by.

  21. AgingLGirl, as a nutritionist concerned with diet and lifestyle, I’m familiar with most of the names on that list. I was an active member of Dr. Mercola’s site until he adopted the position of Trump supporter, at which point I lost all faith in him. Erin Elizabeth has been his live-in girlfriend for years. She has her own “health nut” site but retains a degree of anonymity. At one time I knew her last name but have long forgotten it since I no longer have any interest in either of them.

  22. John S – FYI

    Hydoxychloroquine is one of many drugs that is very effective in a test tube (in vitro – in glass), but harms people. The pharmaceutical companies spend millions on very promising drugs, only to find out that once it goes into a person, it does more harm than good. The paper you site shows “promise” – an in vitro study.

    The NIH guidelines, based on clinical studies (I read the journal Science every week) is to NOT use hydroxychloroquine or related compounds to treat COVID-19.

    https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/therapies/antiviral-therapy/chloroquine-or-hydroxychloroquine-and-or-azithromycin/

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