Only two organizations were responsible for most of the ads against vaccines on Facebook before the social media giant restricted such content in March this year, according to a Nov. 1
Of the 145 Facebook vaccine ads that ran between May 31, 2017 and February 22, 2019, the World Mercury Project and the group called "Compulsory Vaccination" jointly managed 54% of them.
The worldwide mercury project, which presents the most advertisements from any source, is an organization closely associated with the Child Protection Vaccine Group. Both are led by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an environmental advocate who has become a prolific marketer of dangerous anti-vaccine misinformation. He and his organizations are promoting conspiracy theories about vaccine safety, including the categorically debunked claim that safe, life-saving immunizations are linked to autism. More recently, Kennedy has become a clear opponent of laws aimed at increasing the vaccination rate among children at school.
Stop Compulsory Vaccination is a profit-making venture run by a man named Larry Cook. He also pipes with vaccine, misinformation and fear. On Facebook and other platforms, Cook runs advertisements and campaigns that have dubious links between vaccines and the tragic death of a baby. One such advertisement was banned by the UK for Advertising Standards Standards last year. The ad has been classified by the regulator as "misleading", "unjustified" and "likely to cause unnecessary suffering". In other cases, he claimed the vaccine medical community concealed the "slaughter" of children.
Cook has raised tens of thousands of dollars through crowd funding. (It was banned earlier this year by GoFundMe). The money goes not only to the vaccine campaign's disinformation campaign against Cook, but also to his own pockets. In an interview with The Daily Beast in February, Cook declined to disclose how much of the donations he receives go to himself and how much they go about his anti-vaccine activities. He said at the exit: "I am not for profit. There is no need to account for any income – we are in a capitalist society and anyone can collect and spend whatever we want."
An academic study that draws attention to the efforts of Kennedy and Cook is based on data from Ad Library on Facebook. The library is an open, searchable repository of ads that the social media giant believes are related to politics and "issues of national importance". Facebook created the repository as an effort to look more transparent after the scandals, namely the misuse of Cambridge Analytica data and the disclosure that Russian operatives have armed Facebook ads to interfere with US policy.
Although the data are somehow vague and incomplete, it clearly shows that anti-vaccine propaganda has been unified in promoting perceived harm by vaccines, conspiracy theories and the idea of choosing a vaccine.
Compared to Facebook vaccine ads, vaccine ads have slightly higher budgets and more reach. Vaccine ads also had fewer sponsors – 27 unique buyers of 145 vaccine ads compared to 83 unique buyers of 163 vaccine ads
The study, led by public health researchers at the University of Maryland, criticized Facebook for further politicizing the indisputable issue of life-saving immunizations. They conclude that "the extent to which Facebook ads, combined with other social media channels, undermine public confidence in vaccinations, and more generally, government agencies charged with protecting public health is beyond mere concern. "
After the study was completed, Facebook announced the detection of anti-vaccine misinformation, including the promotion of anti-vaccines. Although some of the changes have come into force – including the expulsion of some ads – the authors caution that "the full impact of these policies remains to be seen."
Vaccine, 2019. DOI: 10.1016 / j.vaccine.2019.10 .066 (Per DOI).