Ban the anti-vaxxers

Conor Kelly (TheLorian)

Anti-Vaxxers blocked vaccination for willing Americans outside Dodger stadium last month, protesting with signs that condemned doctors as war criminals and monsters. What did these doctors do to receive this label? Well, they sought to vaccinate people against COVID-19, a crime that Anti-Vaxxers would not tolerate. Indeed, they blocked access to the stadium, which is now one of the largest vaccination locations in the country, in order to shut the facility down. The plan went so well that the Fire Department ended up having to temporarily shut down the stadium. The effect was negligible in the long-term, but it speaks to the increasing openness of a once isolated online community of conspiracists. Now is the time to push them back and, if necessary, to ban these groups from spreading their lies.

Anti-Vax rhetoric is nothing new. Indeed, the anti-vaccine movement is centuries old. In the early 1800s, Anti-vaccine rhetoric began to form in England after Edward Jenner invented the first smallpox vaccine. Though the reasons varied widely, many English people refused to take the vaccine and, in some cases, openly questioned the efficacy of the vaccine as unchristian due to its creation via animal parts. As time went on, though, vaccines became more effective at preventing deadly diseases. This undercut much of the anti-vaccine movement’s momentum. But that did not mean it ended in England. In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled that a man by the name of Henning Jacobson, could not avoid mandatory vaccines as required by his home state of Massachusetts. The case, known as Jacobson v. Massachusetts, is yet another cut into the anti-vaccine movement, but with the rise of the internet, their presence has remained strong.

Facebook is the largest platform known to the social media world. With an estimated 2.6 billion users, Facebook reaches people like no other site. But with that outreach comes a danger. One that Facebook has been reticent to handle: the danger of misinformation and anti-vaccine propaganda. Many Facebook users have spread misinformation and outright lies suggesting that the COVID-19 vaccine is ineffective or makes a person sterile. One famous anti-vaxxer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with the death of famed baseball player, Hank Aaron. Many of these claims have reached large audiences. Kennedy’s Facebook, though likely to be banned in the future, reaches tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands of people. Indeed, prior to the termination of his Instagram, Kennedy was short of a million followers. These are massive platforms and, in a time when COVID-19 has proven so detrimental to everyday life, it is key that lies about the vaccine are quickly suppressed.

For years, Facebook has hesitated to take down content that incorrectly attributed numerous ailments were the result of vaccination. Among some of the falsehoods, was the age-old argument that vaccines cause autism, which was spread by the infamous Andrew Wakefield and the now-banned Del Bigtree. As of this week, Facebook has announced a crackdown on anti-vax content, warning that repeated offenders of misinformation policies could be removed. That is a good start, but after years of negligence, they owe the public an even better policy: ban all anti-vaccine content. Any content that promotes conspiracies or otherwise fearmongers about vaccines should not be allowed, especially when bodies are still being buried everyday.

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Conor J. Kelly was the Opinion Editor for the Lorian and a prolific staff writer. He graduated from Loras College in April of 2021 and is now pursuing his master's in political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. You can find his new work on The Progressive American newsletter.

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