Anti-vaxxers and Facebook have found a way to co-exist

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The anti-vaccine, anti-government “Convoy” protests in Australia and Canada were mostly organized on Telegram and Facebook, two very different tech platforms. The former is a company with 30 employees, founded in Russia, that largely doesn’t do any content moderation despite having more than 500 million users.

The latter? Well, the US-based, highly profitable company’s problems with misinformation are well documented. Incredibly, it was only in 2019 — when Facebook earned US$70 billion from their 2.5 billion users after 15 years of operation — that the company said it would stop recommending anti-vaccine pages and groups, and taking money to promote anti-vaccine content through ads. Since then, the company, now rebranded as Meta, has tightened the rules a few times further after facing increasingly intense scrutiny. This entire period, it’s felt a lot like whack-a-mole: major Facebook pages and groups were often banned. Sometimes they’d spring back up, but sometimes they’d go elsewhere.

Recently I’ve noticed a lot of the major anti-vaccine groups and creators have all found ways to evade bans and continue to exist on the platform. In October last year I wrote about how Craig Kelly, Pete Evans and Australia’s biggest anti-vaxxer groups were able to avoid Facebook bans. Many of the major groups and figures promoting this week’s protests are all on Facebook. Four of the top five pieces of content about the protests, as measured by Facebook engagements, are pro-Convoy to Canberra, and are largely being shared by anti-vaccine groups.

The top five pieces of web content about the Convoy to Canberra based on social media engagements (Image: BuzzSumo)

How are they doing it? Perhaps the biggest change I’ve seen recently is the way that anti-vaccine actors have learned to weave their messages through platforms and mediums in a way that evades Facebook’s ban. They’ll post YouTube videos (around three-quarters of the Convoy to Canberra content was hosted on YouTube) featuring claims that would get them banned on Facebook. They link people to their Telegram channel where they can say whatever they want without repercussions. Or they’ll host livestreams of rallies and interviews that seem largely unmoderated too.

And there’s also just an increased wiliness: everything from avoiding the word “vaccine” to calling anti-vaccine groups “dinner parties”.

Whatever the reason, it feels as though we’ve gotten to an impasse. Facebook has set rules to stop medical misinformation (even though it’s still all over the platform). Anti-vaxxers are able, with a few limitations, to use the world’s most popular social media platform to spread their misinformation further.

In fairness to Meta, it’s not like it invented anti-vaxxers. The pandemic has made it a salient issue that was played up by even mainstream political actors. Plus anti-vaccine content is all over other platforms too, particularly YouTube, Instagram (owned by Meta), TikTok, Twi- well, I guess most of them. Meta certainly seems to do more than YouTube or TikTok.

But it all boils down to this: Meta is a private enterprise. It makes an insane amount of money. It decides who’s allowed on its platform. And at the moment it’s allowed a situation where anti-vaxxers are still able to make Facebook their home.

Hyperlinks

Fake, international Facebook accounts behind the Convoy to Canberra protests

I spotted some unusual accounts behind some of the groups being used to promote and organize the Convoy to Canberra protests. Why were these international accounts doing this? Not sure! But there’s a few reasons people might want to. ,Crikey,

Leaked data from Canadian convoy protest fundraiser reveals hundreds of Australian donors

Aaaand here’s why some people want to give money to these protests. (ABC)

Former SAS officer Riccardo Bosi leading dangerous anti-vax revolution across Australia

A deep dive into one of the leading online conspiracy figures in Australia who has in the past called for politicians and media to be hanged. Worth noting, this piece was posted without a byline. ,The West,

A man’s death became a gruesome viral sensation — and it says a lot about us

Why did people film and share grisely footage of a shark attack online? (ABC News)

‘I Back Zach’: online drive to make NT cop Zachary Rolfe Australia’s Kyle Rittenhouse

Long before the trial of NT police officer Zachary Rolfe for the murder of an Indigenous teenager began, there was an online campaign that was already convinced he was innocent. ,Crikey,

Content Corner

There is a popular website that most journalists dare not speak about, fearing repercussions from the shadowy cabal of elites who pull the strings from behind the veil. But I am not most journalists. Without further ado, presenting: WikiFeet.

Called the encyclopedia for foot fetishists, WikiFeet has run for 14 years entirely off the back of volunteers who upload, curate and rate feet of notable people. It’s played a role in politics before. In 2019, the website was crucial in debunking a fake nude image of Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

With a federal election looming, I wondered what the feet of our political elites would tell us. My first search was of course for our dear leader, Scott Morrison.

The entry for Scott Morrison on WikiFeet, an online encyclopedia for the feet of famous people (Image: WikiFeet)

What I found was that, much like the polls, our prime minister had middling support at best — a measly 2.57 out of five rating from 19 images. Interestingly, his votes were almost entirely either five stars or one star, suggesting strong feelings either way. The website’s algorithm told me that people who liked Morrison’s feet also liked Pierce Brosnan’s, Tom Selleck’s and Kevin Spacey’s. No comment.

When I looked up Anthony Albanese? No images have yet been uploaded. Same with Adam Bandt and Clive Palmer. The only other Australian politician I could find who had a profile was Pauline Hanson (three stars, “ok feet”).

What does this tell us about the upcoming election? Not much, if I’m being honest. Do the polarized scores of Morrison’s feet reveal anything about the intensity of his supporters? Need more data to make such a conclusion. Is the absence of Albanese’s page indicative of his lack of public profile? I don’t know that you can draw that connection.

But if you have a spare moment, I know a website that’s looking for volunteers and has a big hole in its #auspol section.

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