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.