We’re being told there’s an urgent public health necessity to censor vaccine misinformation.
What is this assumption based on? Who gets to decide what is “misinformation” and whether it should be censored?
These aren’t theoretical questions for the Organic Consumers Association.
On May 27, the entire Democratic leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee sent letters to Facebook, Google and Twitter asking these social media companies to de-platform a hit list of organic and natural health experts and organizations, including OCA, accusing us―without evidence―of spreading vaccine disinformation.
In March, the New Yorker ran a “Letter from the U.K.” by Anna Russell, “The Fight Against Vaccine Misinformation.” The article provided clues to who’s behind the efforts to deplatform us:
A study published in Nature last month showed that misinformation had a significant effect on vaccine uptake. The number of Brits who said they would “definitely” accept the vaccine dropped by 6.2 percentage points after they were exposed to common conspiracies—that Bill Gates was plotting against his fellow-Americans, for instance. A critical mass of a population needs to adopt the vaccine for herd immunity to be reached. As Heidi Larson, who worked on the study, put it, “Vaccines only work if people take them.”
Heidi Larson and her Vaccine Confidence Project are funded by GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen and Merck.
When we read her study, we saw that some of the social media posts she used were, in her own words, “correct,” and based on scientific research, but classified as misinformation for the purposes of the study.
That destroys the credibility of Larson’s study.
(We go through each of the social media posts she used as “misinformation” below.)
But, even if her study wasn’t irredeemably skewed, the nugget of exaggerated and cherry-picked data that Russell chose to refer to, isn’t an accurate characterization of what the study actually found.
Looking at the study results, you could easily draw the conclusion that a majority of people large enough to achieve herd immunity were willing to get the vaccine, even after exposure to vaccine misinformation.
But, weirdly, the data also revealed that factual information consistently caused a slight dip in the percentage of people willing to vaccinate.
Larson created a controlled setting in which to test the impact of real-life social media posts, but the study participants were exposed to social media―where the posts were already in circulation―prior to being surveyed.
This provided a real-world opportunity to measure the posts’ actual impact, and Larson included questions in her survey about whether the study participants had already seen the information and how often. However, she did not publish the results.
There are numerous flaws in Heidi Larson’s study published February 5, 2021 in the journal Nature Human Behavior, “Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA.”
The most glaring is that some of the “misinformation” Larson used to sway subjects’ views on vaccination was actually “correct,” to quote the author.
Social Media Post #1 (U.S. & U.K.) - All the monkeys contracted coronavirus
This tweet from Paul Joseph Watson @PrisonPlanet dated May 19, 2020, was shown to both U.S. and U.K. study participants:
Scientists have expressed doubts over the effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine that has been rushed to human trials, after all the monkeys used in initial testing later contracted coronavirus.
Here’s the study’s rationale for classifying this content as misleading:
As per the trials data for the vaccine in question, viral load for vaccinated rhesus macaques challenged with the virus was much lower in the lungs and lower respiratory tract, and comparable to controls only in the nose. Also, the disease was significantly less severe than in controls, w/ no clear evidence if this infection could replicate & spread to others: see ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine prevents SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia in rhesus macaques. Hence, although prima facie the information is correct, it is partial and is classified as misinformation.
The tweet had 1.59k engagements and a reach of 1.5 million.
It has not been censored.
Social Media Post #2 (U.S. & U.K.) - You will become a genetically modified human being
This July 23, 2020 tweet by Perimeter News was shown to both U.S. and U.K. study participants:
The new vaccine for Covid-19 will be the first of its kind EVER. It will be an mRNA vaccine which will literally alter your DNA. It will wrap itself into your system. You will essentially become a genetically modified human being.
It included a diagram of RNA and DNA (that didn’t explain anything about how the mRNA vaccine would make you become a genetically modified human being), and no link. The only comment it got was an “ehh...no” gif, to which the author did not reply. The tweet has not been censored.
The tweet had only 27 engagements and a reach of just 19.6k, far less than the first tweet that accurately referenced a scientific article and had 1.59k engagements and a reach of 1.5 million.
But here’s how Larson described the tweet’s impact to the New Yorker:
Larson has identified certain false narratives that are especially effective in eroding vaccine confidence. When participants were shown anti-vax material that seemed to be rooted in science, for example, they were more likely to be swayed. “The more scientific-looking pieces had more impact,” Larson said. One image, which had already been shared widely online, showed DNA and RNA spirals, and warned, baselessly, that mRNA vaccines will “literally alter your DNA.” (“It will wrap itself into your system,” the caption read. “You will essentially become a genetically modified human being.”) The image “looks like it’s straight out of a genomics textbook,” Larson said. It got more traction than one that hinted, not subtly, at a global conspiracy to reduce population numbers through the pandemic and the vaccine. It showed a shadowy Bill Gates in dark glasses, like an action star “in a Bollywood film or something,” Larson said.
We’ll discuss the Bill Gates tweet next, but, In truth, both tweets were duds compared with the first tweet that correctly stated the findings of a scientific study.
We traced the origin of the urban myth about the COVID-19 vaccine creating genetically modified human beings back to Dr. Carrie Madej, an osteopath in Georgia.
Dr. Madej released a video, with references, about “transhumanism” where she describes her theory that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines might permanently alter our DNA and then speculates on what that might mean if that capacity existed and was integrated with other technologies.
This is definitely not settled science. At this point, there’s no science on whether or how the mRNA from the COVID-19 vaccines might impact, let alone permanently alter, our DNA.
MIT’s Rudolf Jaenisch is trying to figure out if the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself can do that. “All viruses insert their genetic material into the cells they infect,” reports Science, “but it generally remains separate from the cell’s own DNA.” Some retroviruses, HIV for instance, establish “permanent genetic residence in human cells to keep pumping out new copies,” but there’s no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 has the same capacity.
That said, the question of how the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines might impact our DNA remains open. Here’s Medical Daily’s interview with Dr. Jaenisch on the subject:
MD: Does your recent study indicate that the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines can damage DNA in humans?
Dr. Jaenisch: Not really evidence of damage. The mRNA can integrate into the DNA and possibly be expressed but there is no direct evidence of that.
MD: If the mRNA vaccines can integrate into human DNA what could this mean for the future?
Dr. Jaenisch: It will be breakthrough technology. It will change the way diseases are treated.
MD: How will mRNA or DNA vaccines change treatments?
Dr. Jaenisch: These mRNA Covid-19 vaccines are the first to show safety and efficacy of this type of therapy. If there is sufficient evidence that this technology is safe and effective then this has huge potential for future therapies for treating many diseases.
Social Media Post #3 (U.K.) - Bill Gates’ depopulation plot
This tweet from the now deplatformed account of @Prometheous2020, was shown to U.K. study participants:
“They said it was just to flatten the curve. Now it’s a battle for human survival.” The only must-see action thriller for 2020. Starring: Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci, Chris Witty, Matt Hancock. Guest mask appearances: Clintons, Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon, Joe Biden & Tedros. [Graphic featuring Mr. Bill Gates with the following quote.] “If we do a really good job with vaccines, we can reduce population by up to 15%. But if we create a worldwide pandemic first, killing people and making many of the survivors sterile, then create the vaccine, we may achieve the Georgia Guidestones 1st commandment!”
For obvious reasons, like social media post #2, this one also fell flat, with only 11 engagements and a reach of just 1.49k. That’s according to the paper. We can't see what kind of engagement it got, because its author’s account has been suspended.
Like social media post #2’s claim that the COVID-19 vaccines will create genetically modified human beings, this claim about the pandemic and vaccine being part of a Bill Gates plan to reduce population, is another urban myth.
This one can be traced back to a 2010 Bill Gates quote:
First, we’ve got population. The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s headed up to about nine billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by, perhaps, 10 or 15 percent. But there, we see an increase of about 1.3.
Social Media Post #4 (U.K.) - A 99.6% survival rate
This tweet from the now deplatformed account of @jimcorrsays, with a reach of 32.5k and no engagements, was shown to the U.K. study participants:
Something is very fishy about all this indeed. “A VIRUS WITH A 99.6% SURVIVAL RATE FOR PEOPLE UNDER 70 BUT THE ENTIRE WORLD NEEDS TO TAKE A VACCINE? I’M NO SHERLOCK HOLMES BUT SOMETHING’S FISHY ABOUT ALL THAT.......”
The 99.6% survival rate was accurate. The source was the Centers for Disease Control and it was mentioned in several mainstream news media headlines on May 26 when the CDC released new data, albeit in reverse: “CDC estimates COVID 19 mortality rate is 0.4%, significantly lower than previously reported.”
But, here’s what Professor Heidi Larson and her team thought of this tweet:
The post questions the necessity of a worldwide vaccination campaign against a disease with a high survival rate and states that the vaccination campaign is “fishy” (i.e., arousing feelings of suspicion). Quoting an under-70 survival rate of “99.6%” is misleading, since it ignores age-variability, disease spread, and contextual comparison to other infectious diseases: see Likelihood of survival of coronavirus disease 2019; Fact check: Does COVID-19 have a mortality rate of 1%-2%?. This post also does not consider the importance of herd immunity in conferring population-wide protection against a disease (see Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know), using the word “fishy” to suggest undisclosed suspicious motives without evidence. Hence, classified as misinformation.
So, according to Larson, “The COVID19 mortality rate is 0.4%.” is true, while “The COVID19 survival rate is 99.6%.” is false?
She knows better, of course, and the dates on her fact-checking sources (March 30, 2020 and May 5, 2020), show that she used old data to color a post based on up-to-date CDC data as “misinformation.”
Social Media Post #5 (U.K.) - An anti-fertility vaccine
The fifth and final social media post shown to U.K. study participants in the group receiving “misinformation” was a tweet by the now deplatformed account of @DavidIcke:
Big Pharma whistleblower: “97% of corona vaccine recipients will become infertile”
It linked to a video containing genuine misinformation that was posted on Icke’s website on June 20, 2020 and appeared elsewhere on June 17, 2020.
The tweet was very popular, with 6.95k engagements and a reach of 336k.
The story, in a nutshell, is that a GlaxoSmithKline whistleblower had shared inside information about an antigen in an upcoming COVID-19 vaccine that was proven to cause infertility in up to 97% of recipients.
While it may have been shared in good faith, its source appears to be a scam scripted by Zed Phoenix/Ben Fellows. What makes it even more dangerous is that it included a call-to-action to help discover the truth, which likely resulted in unwitting and curious folks getting taken in, hook, line and sinker, entering their emails and credit card numbers into Fellow’s waiting website.
However, it is also possible that Fellows was the person who was scammed.
Should information like this be censored? Only to the extent necessary to prevent fraud, and that should be a determination made by law enforcement, not internet companies or their regulators.
If Fellows were found to be running a scam to get people to donate, for instance, then that should be clearly explained on a redirect from his website. Websites like Icke’s that posted the fraudulent information could be required to publish corrections.
Regardless of who’s behind the misinformation, this is a situation where good fact-checkers can prevent people from being victims of fraud. AAP’s fact check is very helpful: “COVID-19 vaccine ‘whistleblower’ information sounds a lot like an unrelated study from 1989.”
Social Media Post #3 (U.S.) - Censorship is vile
The third social media post shown to U.S. study participants is a popular tweet about censorship that had 25.1k engagements and a reach of 1.41k before being removed from Twitter, along with its author, @uTobian:
I’ve been in Twitter jail for the last 12 hours for posting a link to a peer reviewed scientific study published in Vaccine showing that in military personnel prior receipt of the flu shot increased coronavirus risk by 36%. Censorship is vile & unAmerican.
The tweet is factual. A study showed receipt of the flu shot increased coronavirus risk by 36%. However, the study was done before COVID-19, and it did not provide direct evidence that COVID-19 risk is increased by the flu shot.
We can’t see @uTobian’s original tweet now, but nothing in the tweet suggests that he posted the article in bad faith or with an intent to mislead.
A triumph of science, not censorship.
Social Media Post #4 (U.S.) - Flu vaccine worsens COVID
The fourth social media post showed to U.S. study participants was from Facebook. The now deplatformed author was Larry Cook, founder of the Vaccine Free Child:
So we know for a fact that the flu vaccine worsens COVID symptoms. So what are they mandating now? The flu vaccine, of course.
Very similar to Tweet 3, this tweet was based on recent studies showing that flu vaccination was associated with COVID-19 severity. A study published much later (May 2021) showed that the flu vaccine was not significantly associated with adverse outcomes, but there’s no reason to believe that this post was without evidence.
Social Media Post #5 (U.S.) - The propaganda blitz
The fifth and final social media post showed to U.S. study participants was from Instagram:
PREPARING THE PROPAGANDA BLITZ. Yale University and the U.S. government are running clinical trials to develop propaganda messaging to persuade Americans to take experimental, genetically engineered, unlicensed, “Warp Speed,” zero liability, expedited vaccines with limited short-duration safety testing. Researchers compared reactions in 12 focus groups using “guilt, embarrassment, bravery, anger, trust” and “fear” to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
This Instagram post wasn't factually inaccurate, just very opinionated. It has since been removed.
Participants were asked two questions:
If a new coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine became available, would you accept the vaccine for yourself?
If a new coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine became available, would you accept the vaccine if it meant protecting friends, family, or at-risk groups?
When Brits were asked about vaccinating to protect others, 63.7 percent said “definitely” and 24.7 percent “leaned yes.” There were 7 percent “leaning no” and only 4.5 percent who would “definitely not.”
That’s 88.4 percent on the “yes” side, and 11.5 percent on the “no” side. For public health advocates concerned about whether people would be willing to vaccinate, that should be good news. These people were exposed to real-world social media, where a range of information on vaccines was circulating, and they still wanted to get vaccinated.
After being exposed to social media “misinformation” a controlled setting, 83.6 were still on the “yes” side:
“Definitely” went from 63.7 percent to 55.7, down 8
“Leaning yes” went from 24.7 percent to 27.9, up 3.3
“Leaning no” went from 7 percent to 9.6, up 2.6
“Definitely not” went from 4.5 percent to 6.8, up 2.3
When Brits were asked if they would “accept the vaccine for yourself,” 54.1 percent said “definitely,” 31.9 percent said “leaning yes,” 8.0 percent said “leaning no,” and 6.0 percent said “definitely not.”
That’s 86 percent on the “yes” side and 14 percent on the “no” side. Again, figures that should allay any concerns about achieving desired vaccination rates.
After being shown social media “misinformation,” 79.7 percent were still on the “yes” side:
“Definitely” dropped from 54.1 to 48.6 percent, down 5.5
“Leaning yes” dropped from 31.9 to 31.1 percent, down 0.8
“Leaning no” grew from 8.0 to 11.3 percent, up 3.3
“Definitely not” grew from 6.0 to 9.1 percent, up 3.1
U.S. results were similar.
When asked if they would vaccinate, 42.5 percent of people said “definitely,” 30 percent said “leaning yes,” 12.4 percent said “leaning no,” and 15 percent said “definitely not.”
After being shown social media posts with “misinformation” about vaccines, people’s views shifted slightly:
“Definitely” dropped from 42.5 to 39.8 percent, down of 2.7.
“Leaning yes” dropped from 30 to 28.7 percent, down 1.3.
“Leaning no” grew from 12.4 to 14 percent, up 1.6.
“Definitely not” grew from 15 to 17.5 percent, up 2.5.
Overall, before the misinformation, there were 72.5 percent on the “yes” side and 27.4 percent on the “no” side. Afterwards, it was 68.5 percent on the “yes” side and 31.5 percent on the “no” side.
When asked the follow-up question about vaccinating “if it meant protecting friends, family, or at-risk groups,” support for vaccination was even higher, with 53.3 percent “definitely,” 24.7 percent “leaning yes,” 10 percent “leaning no” and 12 percent “definitely not.”
After “misinformation,” “yes” side lowered, but stayed within the herd immunity range at 73.1 percent:
“Definitely” dropped from 53.3 to 46.4 percent, down 6.9.
“Leaning yes” grew from 24.7 to 26.7 percent, up 2.
“Leaning no” grew from 10 to 11.7 percent, up 1.7.
“Definitely not” grew from 12 to 15.2 percent, up 3.2.
Factual information also caused a slight drop in the number of people willing to take a Covid vaccine!
The control group was asked about vaccination and then showed factual information.
In the U.S. cohort, before the “factual” information, there were 72.5 percent on the “yes” side and 27.4 percent on the “no” side. Afterwards:
“Definitely” grew from 42.5 to 46.3 percent, up 3.8.
“Leaning yes” dropped from 30 to 25.4 percent, down 4.6.
“Leaning no” grew from 12.4 to 12.5 percent, up 0.1.
“Definitely not” grew from 15 to 15.9 percent, up 0.9.
The post-factual information results were 71.7 percent on the “yes” side and 28.4 percent on the “no” side. That’s a difference of 1.
And it’s actually away from vaccination!
When the U.S. control group was asked the follow up question about vaccinating for the sake of others, before and after factual information:
“Definitely” dropped from 53.3 to 52.9 percent, down 0.4
“Leaning yes” dropped from 24.7 to 22.5 percent, down 2.2
“Leaning no” grew from 10 to 11.3 percent, up 1.3
“Definitely not” grew from 12 to 13.4 percent, up 1.4
Again, factual information was shown to cause a drop in willingness to vaccinate, this time 2.6 points, from 78 to 75.4 percent.
In the U.K. cohort, before the “factual” information, there were 86 percent on the “yes” side and 14 percent on the “no” side. Afterwards:
“Definitely” grew from 54.1 to 54.8 percent, up 0.7.
“Leaning yes” dropped from 31.9 to 30.9 percent, down 1.
“Leaning no” grew from 8 to 8.5 percent, up 0.5.
“Definitely not” dropped from 6 to 5.8 percent, up 0.2.
For a third time, factual information caused a movement away from vaccination, albeit a tiny one, from 86 to 85.7 percent on the “yes” side.
On the follow-up question about vaccinating for the sake of others, before factual information
“Definitely” dropped from 63.7 to 61.5 percent, down 2.2.
“Leaning yes” grew from 24.7 to 25.6 percent, up 0.9.
“Leaning no” grew from 7 to 7.2 percent, up 0.2.
“Definitely not” dropped from 4.5 to 5.7 percent, up 1.2.
For a fourth time in a row, factual information caused a (tiny) movement away from vaccination, from 88.4 to 87.1 percent on the “yes” side.
No Support for Deplatforming Organic and Natural Health Advocates
Nothing in Larson’s study provided support for deplatforming the organic and natural health advocates on the so-called “Disinformation Dozen” hit list.
It’s time for journalists to start looking into the study authors' ties to GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen and Merck, and figure out what these corporations are really up to.
Is this really about vaccine confidence and public health? Or, is it about big business suppressing accurate information about the dangers of their products?
We’re working on getting to the bottom of it. In the meantime, please contact your representatives in Congress.