Millions are following anti-vaxxer lies: Probe reveals the vast influence of social media posts that Chris Whitty says 'misled' many of those now fighting Covid in hospital

Daily Mail, UK/December 8, 2022

By Michale Powell and Natasha Livingstone

A staggering six million people follow UK accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok that pump out anti-vaccine propaganda, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Social-media giants have been accused of a 'moral failure' for not curbing the torrent of misinformation, which Boris Johnson last week blasted as online 'mumbo-jumbo'.

England's chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty also blamed anti-vaxxers on the internet for creating intensive care wards of unvaccinated patients fighting Covid-19.

An investigation by the MoS today reveals those spreading misinformation on social media include a former Miss Great Britain, a reality TV star, a lawyer and a former GP.

Technology giants claim they are cracking down on anti-vax propaganda but Imran Ahmed, from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, accused them of putting profit before public health.

'The big social-media platforms are failing to act against the biggest super-spreaders of disinformation and the reason is because disinformation about vaccines drives traffic, drives engagement on their sites and increases advertising revenues,' he said.

'We are witnessing a cynical moral failure by these corporations who are willing to let the world burn as long as it boosts their profits.'

Monitoring group NewsGuard said it had reported 85 accounts for breaching social-media platform rules at the start of the pandemic – but more than half are still active.

And Dr Tim Squirrell, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue which analyses online misinformation, said: 'Platforms are systematically failing to act decisively against anti-vaccine content.'

The MoS found hundreds of examples on social media. Among the accounts spreading anti-vaccine misinformation is that of Leilani Dowding, 41, a former Miss Great Britain and Page 3 glamour model, who has attracted more than 90,000 followers.

Writing on Instagram, where her profile describes her as a 'Freedom Fighting Refusenik', she said 'nutrition and vitamins can prevent or lessen the symptoms of it [Covid].

On Twitter, she wrote: 'I Will NOT be part of their real world experiment', and on Facebook she posted: '2 years on my unvaxxed self had NOT had Covid!! Not after all the protests I've been to, the thousands of people I've hugged, having never worn a mask.'

Approached for comment, she said: 'I absolutely stand by what I said. I'm never going to have the vaccine. I just don't believe the science behind it.'

Former reality TV star Jay Gardner, who appeared in Geordie Shore, regularly posts anti-vaccine and conspiracy theories to his 800,000 Twitter followers.

Last month, he tweeted 'These guys telling you to take all these shots have absolutely 0 idea of any long term damage, but we will force you to do it anyway', and in August, he wrote: 'Wait until the microchips (which the pentagon are now developing) that can detect Covid 19 within the blood, come into play.'

Mr Gardner, 34, declined to comment last night.

Vernon Coleman, a former GP who previously claimed AIDS was a hoax, peddles anti-vax lies to his 216,000 YouTube followers.

In one video he says: 'I would rather be dead than have one of these absurd, unnecessary vaccine for Covid-19 that could alter my body, my mind and my soul.'

Addressing a rally of anti-vaxxers in London in July, he described Covid jabs as 'toxic material' and 'napalm'.

YouTube, which says it has removed more than 130,000 videos of Covid-19 misinformation since October 2020, last night 'terminated' Dr Coleman's account for policy violations.

Anna de Buisseret, 56, a lawyer with 24,000 Twitter followers, last week claimed that vaccinated people had been 'deceived, lied to, coerced, threatened, intimidated, harassed, guilt tripped and shamed into taking part in this live human experiment'.

Last night she said: 'I am not "anti-vaccine", I am against the use of experimental gene treatments.'

Another anti-vaxxer is Katy-Jo Murfin, 40, a former West End stage performer. The daughter of actor Karl Howman, who played Jacko in 1980s sitcom Brush Strokes, she has called vaccines 'rape on a cellular level'.

She did not respond to a request for comment. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said it had removed accounts held by Ms Dowding, Ms Murfin and Ms de Buisseret that 'repeatedly violated' their policies as well as more than 20 million pieces of harmful Covid misinformation.

Twitter said it would 'continue to take enforcement action on content and accounts that advance demonstrably false or misleading claims about Covid-19' and TikTok said it 'works diligently to take action on misinformation'.

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