When it comes to providing accurate medical information, social media is a hot mess. Reporting by the Guardian and elsewhere over the last few months has revealed many troubling examples: the top searches for vaccines on Amazon turn up anti-vaxx books instead; YouTube purposely keeps viewers on its website by suggesting increasingly conspiratorial content; Facebook is a safe haven for propagandists and helps anti-vaxx profiteers make money.
The result? We are experiencing rising outbreaks of eliminated diseases like measles, and the World Health Organization has named vaccine hesitancy one of the top threats to global health in 2019.
At the center of this storm are online “echo chambers” which suck in concerned parents behind walled gardens rife with anti-vaxx material. Many of these echo chambers – pages and online groups like “Vaccine Resistance Movement”, “Vaccine Re-education Discussion Forum”, and “Vaccine Injury Stories”, for example – have hundreds of thousands of followers. Where do they come from? Much of the blame can be placed on profiteers: those who seek to exploit the ignorance and fears of parents and others for financial gain.