03 November 2020

Fake Health News

'From Anti-Vaxxers to Antisemitism: Conspiracy Theory in the COVID Pandemic' by the Office of HM's Official Adviser on Antisemitism  comments 

This report analyses the role of antisemitism in ‘anti-vaxxer’ conspiracy theories, a movement that has grown significantly in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking at private and public groups on Facebook, this report evaluates the saturation of antisemitism in the anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown movements. 

 The author/s conclude 

This report identifies the prevalence of antisemitism within the anti-vaccination groups on social media. Whilst not all anti-vaxxers share antisemitic attitudes, it is probable that their propensity to conspiracy theory reduces their resilience to antisemitic beliefs and attitudes. In nearly all the Facebook groups identified this study, users were able to see and interact with antisemitic content, including links to extremist content on sites such as BitChute. Even when initial posts relating to the pandemic did not include any antisemitic content, conversations within the post’s comments section were often openly antisemitic and provided an opportunity for others to be radicalised. 

As conspiracy theories provide comfort when faced with uncertainty and adversity, it should come as no surprise that anti- vaccination groups have grown and multiplied during the COVID-19 pandemic. This report identified the emergence and growth of local anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown groups on Facebook and their movement to ‘alternative’ social media platforms popular with the far-right. Members of these groups were often very active, organising local meetups and anti-lockdown actions, including targeting local and national businesses that were complying with Public Health England guidelines. 

The UK Government must not be complacent about the levels of misinformation on social media and its infiltration into local communities. The Government needs to urgently tackle the growth of conspiracy theory during the pandemic if the public are to remain trustful and confident in public health guidelines and recommendations. As temporary restrictions on individual freedoms look set to be prolonged or extended as the United Kingdom enters a three-tier system of coronavirus controls, the need to address antisemitic and anti-vaccination conspiracy theory will become more acute. 

Most people are desperate for a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, as are governments across the world. Once a vaccine becomes available it will be essential to quickly sideline the conspiracy theories and misinformation of the antivaxxers. Exposing their links to antisemitism and age old conspiracy theories can only assist the public health message, but in doing so government and civil society organisations must also combat the resurgence of antisemitism that, as this report evidences, is present in 79% of antivaxxer networks. The attempts to blame ‘the other’ for the economic and health problems of COVID-19 will inevitably mean an increase in antisemitism at precisely the moment that nations will need to be at their most united. Exposing the level of antisemitism amongst the anti-vaxxer movement now is therefore of the utmost importance.