Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists are plotting to exploit the coronavirus to launch a disinformation campaign about vaccines, particularly targeting ethnic minorities, said a new report released on Tuesday.
In its report, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) said in private Facebook groups anti-vaxxers trained their followers to identify those who are hesitant about taking vaccines and to convert them to their cause.
One Facebook group, the report said, was focused on training their members to target ethnic minorities to dissuade them from being vaccinated.
The CCDH managed to attend a private conference held by leading anti-vaccine campaigners from across the world.
At the conference, the CCDH said those attending suggested the coronavirus was not dangerous, vaccines were dangerous, and that experts could not be trusted.
They were also said to have suggested that the pandemic was an opportunity for them to reach more people than ever before, as well as an opportunity to sow long-term distrust against vaccines.
The report said that the total audience for English-language anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists on social media was 59.2 million, with 5.4 million of them in the UK.
The CCDH said rebutting this misinformation online was the wrong course of action by those who want to counter these conspiracy theories, as it only amplifies the original misinformation, even if unintentionally.
The best course of action instead was to promote pro-vaccine information, it added.
CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed said: “Anti-vaxxers view the COVID vaccine as an opportunity to create long-lasting distrust in the effectiveness, safety, and necessity for vaccination. Unless urgent action is taken, they may succeed.
“Currently, anti-vaxxers are permitted to organise, recruit, and spread outright lies which threaten human life to millions of people online. While the successful development of COVID vaccines was a cause for huge optimism for our ability to overcome coronavirus, that great work could be undone by this malignant Anti-Vaxx Industry of propagandists.
“It is vital that governments, social media platforms, and pro-vaccine advocates study the anti-vaxxers’ plan for the COVID vaccine, to avoid falling for their traps and do a better job of promoting the COVID vaccines as safe, vital and trustworthy developments.”
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