General Question

LuckyGuy's avatar

Who, or what organization benefits by spreading Antivax disinformation?

Asked by LuckyGuy (42959points) March 11th, 2021
47 responses
“Great Question” (5points)

My nephew is an antivaxxer. He is listening to right wing news sources that state things like: “Four people got Bells Palsy within 3 days of getting the Covid vaccine!” and “966 people died within 3 days of getting vaccinated” “Clinical trials stopped due to a death immediately after the vaccine.”
It turns out there is a grain of truth to the statements but the info is misleading, if not totally false. The vaccine did not cause Bell’s Palsy or deaths. Yes 4 people developed BP after the vaccine but that is the same rate that get it an unvaccinated population. The same number that has been getting it for decades.
Yes, 966 people died but that is the same death rate as those who die in the normal over 75 population.
Yes, clinical trials stopped when someone died but they were restarted when the cause was determined to be something other than the vaccine.

Who benefits by spreading this disinformation and not stating the second half of the message?

Two days ago in my area two women in their 80s died within 30 minutes of getting their Covid vaccination. Tragically, they were killed in a car accident when pulling out of the vaccination center.
Will antivaxxers count those 2 deaths as proof of the vaccine’s danger?

A quick search will show many cases of people getting killed while going to or from church. Can that be used in an argument, too?

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janbb's avatar

I have read that Russian and Chinese bots are busy spreading anti-vaxx info. I don’t know to what aim unless it’s just to further weaken the West.

cookieman's avatar

As Alfred said to Bruce, some people just want to watch the world burn.

I sometimes think the goal is just to seed chaos.

janbb's avatar

@cookieman Actually, that’s what I had read about Putin’s goal in the 2016 election for Donald Trump. He didn’t have a particular agenda in mind, just to sow chaos. And he got that in spades!

gondwanalon's avatar

Some sad and sick people seem to have a relentless mistrust and suspicion of vaccines in general even without adequate reasons or evidence for suspicion. They even make up false reasons like claiming government conspiracies including, false data, computer chips, nano bots etc.

Who benefits? No one. Everyone loses in this game.

KNOWITALL's avatar

There’s been a very loud group against Big Pharma for decades that truly believe they are profiting off people rather than finding a cure. And it’s worldwide, not just in the US.

Here’s an interesting article about that.

hello321's avatar

The conditions for anti-vaccination sentiment is built into the system. The US has a for-profit healthcare system. People correctly understand that this system is not designed for public health as its primary goal. It’s a profit industry.

So, there is legitimate skepticism to be had. Combine this with the slightest bit of misinformation, and you have a strong anti-vaccination sentiment.

While I don’t agree with them, I completely understand where many of them are coming from. In many cases, it’s not nearly as irrational a belief as people claim it is.

janbb's avatar

@hello321 In my opinion, this is true especially for members of the Black community who have been used as guinea pigs far too often.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I can see how China and Russia could profit by sowing misinformation.
The sources are definitely clever. They give enough information to get people excited and worried but not enough to show how the statements are misleading. People who only read the headlines are swayed. The uninformed are told they are the ones who really know what is going on and everyone else are “Sheeple” being controlled by the mainstream media.
Clever indeed.
Here’s one I wrote: 2.5 million unvaccinated Americans died last year! While only 18,000 vaccinated Americans died.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@hello321 Exactly. It’s odd that people bash them for being ignorant, but trust me, they (in general) think everyone who takes them eagerly without questioning or approval by the FDA may regret it.

@janbb True. Two of my friends on social media, both posted that they feel the mask mandate lifted, and lack of vaccines for younger people, along with the fact they are in many service jobs at minimum wage/essential workers, will translate into more minority deaths. Both in Texas.

Demosthenes's avatar

@hello321 I agree our health-care system has a profit motive, but the alternative (state-owned health care) is asking people to trust the government over corporations. Which I don’t necessarily see improving the situation. Seems like those who are skeptical of vaccines will be skeptical whether they’re being developed by for-profit private corporations or non-profit government entities.

Anti-vax sentiment predates the rise of social media and misinformation, but it goes hand in hand with conspiracy thinking: a general mistrust of authority, science, and experts, a belief that shadowy cabals are pulling the strings, etc. Vaccines especially become mistrustful when they’re mandatory. Much of the anti-vax crowd also believes that COVID itself is either exaggerated or was deliberately introduced for political reasons. Not sure how you get through to these people. A lot of it is quite irrational.

Zaku's avatar

I think part of it comes from the “culture of blatant lies” that seems to be thriving in recent decades. Corporations and politicians have always lied to a degree, but they used to make some effort to appear to be honest and truthful. Now there are so many blatant lies from people in offices that are supposed to be help by people who are at least somewhat trustworthy. Corporations threaten scientists not to reveal the problems with their products, hire their own studies for their own products, and organizations are created with deceptive names just to promote disinformation and political pressure for industries that do great evil.

So in a media environment where we have so many organized lie campaigns trying to convince the population that there’s no climate crisis, eating pesticide-laden industrial food is safe, that Bernie Sanders’ ideas are radical and/or impossible, and endless other nonsense, AND with all of the frightening threatening messages of pandemics, terrorism, potential war, economic collapse, extinction-level environmental crises, unhealthy food, religious wars, coups, racism, murderous police, etc… it’s not unreasonable that most of our population gets overwhelmed, doesn’t pay a lot of attention to “the news”, and distrusts what they do hear, has a hard time verifying what’s true, and may believe other stories.

hello321's avatar

@Demosthenes: “Seems like those who are skeptical of vaccines will be skeptical whether they’re being developed by for-profit private corporations or non-profit government entities.”

Fair point. But I’ve mostly seen anti-vaccination sentiment in the context of a (legitimate) distrust of the “health care” industry. I’m sure there are plenty of possible motivations, including religious, etc. But all I was saying is that there is reason to be skeptical of these corporations. Those I have come across who are hesitant to vaccination schedules (not Covid-19), have been people whose arguments are not without merit. They’ve just bought a small nugget or two of misinformation, and it solidifies their position.

The whole “anti-vaxxxxx” snark with all the Xs and the disgust that comes with it is not necessarily the way to reach the people I’m talking about. But there probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to reaching people who have achieved their position from different directions.

Demosthenes's avatar

@hello321 Right. I was using “skeptical” and “anti-vaxxxx” as synonyms but they’re not. I spend a lot of time on the internet, so most of the opposition to the COVID vaccine that I’ve come across is from wacky far-right conspiracy theorist types who believe in Q and think Trump is still going to have Biden arrested and that the vaccine contains Bill Gates’ microchips in it (they’re also the type who are opposed to mask usage). There’s a difference between these types and people (often people of color) who are skeptical of the vaccine due to bad experiences with our health care system. The latter group can still be reached, I think. The former is probably too far gone.

snowberry's avatar

I don’t trust drug companies. @KNOWITALL’s link came close to explaining part of my reasons for not trusting them. Add to that my own horrific experience at the hands of a mandatory vaccination program, as well as other reasons, and I am indeed reticent.

However, I will have a Covid vaccine eventually, but I’ll wait until the time is right for me.

Jeruba's avatar

It’s a target for religious fervor that needs targets, enemies. Doesn’t matter what the passion is about as long as it’s aroused so that it can be channeled and controlled by some master. The master benefits from it until he or she loses control of it. Then what?

The blaming and demonization work a little better when there’s some actual fault or sin that can be grabbed onto and magnified. Not hard to find in Big Pharma, which has been villainized for good reason over many years. Unfortunately, runaway suspicion seems to be harming the very people who are trying hardest to protect themselves.

I don’t know whom to trust either, so I pretty much don’t trust any of them. But for sheerly practical reasons I have to pick somebody and behave as if I trusted them, or I’d just be paralyzed. I’m wary of the medical establishment, the pharmaceutical industry, big tech, the government, and all other colossal and faceless institutions; but without relaxing my guard, I do go along with them to the extent that I think my interests align with theirs. I don’t ever expect to see the big picture.

AK's avatar

If disinformation and misinformation can be classified as ‘industries’, they were relegated to the small scale segment for a major part of history. We’ve always had rumor mongers amongst us. Till about the 2000s, these rumor mongers did their thing for small benefits, targeting just a handful of people at a time. Benefits could include monetary gains, personal cred, a small band of followers, etc. The advent of internet has enabled these small scale operators to link up and form a mega group. The ‘industry’ is no longer small scale, it is a multinational factory now. The internet also allows these people to collectively shout down (or shut down) saner voices. Back in the day when we came across any such doomsday rumors, we used to laugh it away or take appropriate action if it was a serious threat. Sadly, we can’t do that now because the internet offers a cloak of anonymity. Another sad thing is younger people nowadays have a very diluted sense of disbelief. Due diligence and proper verification of info is almost never done. That is why we have so many ‘believers’ amongst our midst (your nephew included).
Thankfully, unsubstantiated rumors don’t last long…even in the current age of the internet. They die out because people eventually wake up to reality. The antivax, flat earth conspiracy jokeries will meet their end, sooner than later. While they last, they will pull some people into their fold, which is inevitable but the majority of them will see through. We can only hope that your nephew is not among those who get pulled in….

JLeslie's avatar

Many groups want to divide Americans and make Americans afraid. Religious groups, politicians, media trolls, fringe libertarians, and foreign countries have utilized anti-vax information in their circles. Their motive is not always division, it can be to make money, or gain power among a group. Some people spread the message of anti-vax because they really believe they are doing good.

There is a grain of truth in the messaging, like most conspiracy theories, and so the people spreading the false information can point to the true information to gain trust, and then they can say anything,

QAnon, which is now known by most of America, has anti-vaxxers under their umbrella at this point. There is a lot of overlap.

People can look up deaths “related” to the vaccines on the government website. When there is a death the circumstance is sent to the FDA on a VAERS form and it should be public record if I am not mistaken.

I am pretty sure the clinical trial that was halted wound up being the person was receiving the placebo, unless there might have been another case I am unaware of.

I think it is a problem that people who completely dismiss anti-vaxxers don’t know where there are the bits of truth, because then the ant-vaxxer can simply dismiss arguments against them.

The video of a few thousand people getting GBS in the 70’s from flu vaccine is floating around – that really did happen. The meme that polio vaccine caused a few hundred cases of polio in Africa – as far as I know that really did happen, Africa still gets the drops rather than the shot, it is a well known possibility that people receiving the oral vaccine can shed the virus. The anti-vaxxers are saying cells from aborted fetuses are used to make the covid vaccine – that is true for J&J not the mRNA’s. The anti-vaxxers were at a fever pitch with Michelle Bachman running for office over a decade ago, saying the HPV vaccine had severe side effects and the government wants to vaccinate girls who should be abstinent anyway and it is like encouraging young girls to have sex. We all know the MMR and autism fiasco, but instead of just dismissing it, take note that the anti-vaxxers focus on the mercury in vaccines, and most vaccines don’t have mercury anymore, you can give them the information for which vaccines do. MMR does not have mercury, some flu vaccine do, they can always look it up. Here is a link with current information. I find most people who want to just call anti-vaxxers crazy are also just obediently listening to health officials, or their own news stations, and don’t really research extensively.

People suck at evaluating risk, so it isn’t hard to scare people.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie And the constant articles don’t help. This is on today.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland have temporarily suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Italy and Austria, meanwhile, have stopped using certain batches of the drug as a precautionary measure.

The suspensions in Italy and Austria involve different batches of the vaccine.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have also suspended the use of the same batch as Austria.

In an earlier statement, the EMA said Denmark’s decision was a “precautionary measure [taken] while a full investigation is ongoing into reports of blood clots in people who received the vaccine, including one case in Denmark where a person died”.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL I think we stopped vaccinating in Southern California at one point to investigate a batch. The problem is the public knows too much at this point. Usually, if a batch of a drug or vaccine is halted the public is not even aware. It is very rare that it happens, vaccines and medications are made under very strict environments, but problems do happen.

The idea that no one will have a severe reaction nor die is naive in my opinion. People can die from Tylenol. It’s a matter of risk, and the risk with the covid vaccines seems objectively very very low, but of course the bad reactions need to be investigated like any other new pharmaceutical or biologic on the market.

I think you have probably seen me write that I think it was reasonable to want to wait a month to see how the vaccines were doing after giving the shots to millions of people in the general population. The research studies had 20,000 people or so, but when you do millions of people you start to see if there is a pattern of people having bad reactions with certain underlying ailments than you might not see in 20,000 volunteers. People with certain ailments might be hesitant to volunteer for a study, but might get vaccinated once they feel it is deemed safe.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie Oh yes, I think after a period of time, you’ll see more voluntary vaccinations by those with concerns.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL Where I live my perception is most people want the vaccine. Our appointments for the grocery store pharmacies book within an hour when they open up. The local news is reporting that is happening in the entire central Florida region, so that would be Orlando and surrounding counties, it is a large area. Recently, the large first come first serve location in Orlando was reported to only be vaccinating 1,000 people a day when it can do 3,000, so our governor is lowering the age to 60 on Monday. What sucks is where I live we still have a lot of over 65 who need the vaccine and they cannot drive across two counties to Orlando, they aren’t able to do the drive. We need a FEMA or state site here. If they came for two weeks, left for another area in the region, and then returned for two weeks for second shots it would be amazing. They could repeat that all over the state.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie Sure, get those seniors in for sure.

In my state, we’re having waste, because so many don’t want it. True story, was on the news.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL In the Florida Panhandle the appointments at the grocery pharmacies sit there open. I’ve written my local representative, the governors office, and two of the grocery stores having this situation. The Panhandle might as well be Alabama, very politically conservative.

Thing is, the grocery store pharmacies have to do all of their usual duties plus give the vaccines, so it’s not just getting stock, it’s also having the staff to give it out. That’s why I think a pop up FEMA or state site is the way to go. We already have the personnel allocated to the state. Sounds like we could take your allocation too. Although, my guess is you have people trying to get the vaccine who are having a hard time getting it. Waste and scarcity are happening all at once.

Walmart pharmacies near me are taking names for waste avoidance, supposedly any age can be on the list. The other grocers won’t do it. They are just calling people with appointments the next day to come in early. I like Walmart’s system, because people on the list know to answer their phone for every call and they agree they can get to the store within 20 minutes, so these are people who basically are able to leave what they are doing at the drop of a hat. Some people with appointments live over an hour away from the stores. My Walmart is 1.5 miles away from my house.

Pandora's avatar

All of the reasons listed. Maliciousness needs no reason. I have a relative through marriage who won’t get his children or himself vaccinated because he heard that vaccinations were invented to attack black people and make them ill. So who would benefit from that? Racists who are happy to see black people struggle or die from preventable diseases and sometimes just from ignorant individuals. I knew a black lady once who told me my children would be stupid because my husband and I are not of the same race. I wish, I still knew her so she can see how brilliant they both are. She really didn’t mean it to be mean. She truly believed it because she was told that growing up. So why was she told that? No doubt so that black people wouldn’t dare mix with other races. The world is full of evil people. Racism or ignorance or greed or politics or religion are motivators, and sometimes it’s just to be mean and revel in the chaos. No, let me correct that. Most of the time, it’s just to be mean.

flutherother's avatar

The BBC has been broadcasting lots of interviews with academics of various kinds, epidemiologists and professors of medicine etc during the course of the pandemic and I trust what they say about the virus and vaccination. They are unanimous in saying that the vaccine is overwhelmingly beneficial for public health and for the health of individuals and to take the vaccine whenever it is offered.

People are free to believe what they like but why anyone would have faith in an anonymous voice quoting doubtful statistics is beyond me.

kritiper's avatar

The anarchists.

Jeruba's avatar

To clarify my comment above: when I said “religious fervor,” I didn’t mean actual religiosity. I meant fervor that has the quality of religious zeal, but directed toward something else, a focus or outlet for that kind of energy and drive and passion—as, for example, a social or political cause.

I think people can become addicted to that kind of stimulus and get high on it just as people can become adrenaline junkies or anger addicts (and maybe even sports fanatics, although that’s a phenomenon I don’t relate to at all). At that point it doesn’t matter one bit whether it’s illogical, unfounded, hateful, or harmful. What addict puts those considerations ahead of securing the next fix?

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora I think white people are targeting other white people with the anti-vaccine rhetoric. Many of them are alt-right, WS type people, or sucked in by some of their messaging even if they aren’t racist.

Black people also tell their Black friends regarding their fears of the medical establishment. Do you mean you believe racist people are putting the ideas into the Black community? My experience is parts of the Black community are already sufficiently afraid even before covid ever became a thing. Although, I do know quite a few Black people who didn’t take COVID very seriously and my GUESS was they were hearing some of the same stuff white people were hearing through religious circles.

@Jeruba I think so too.They seek the jolt they get when they read something that makes them very emotional, whether it be anger or fear or even a feeling of superiority. I generally don’t like those feelings.

Caravanfan's avatar

Antivaxxers are child killers and are the worst people in the world.

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie I think in his case it’s through his church. His dad is a pastor. Part of it also has to do with the fact that the black community has been used as lab rats in the past. So for some that has dented their belief and trust in science and the government.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Caravan You can partially blame that on the opioid crisis, greed and irresponsibility of Big Pharma. You know that!
Soccer moms trying to do the best for their kids are not evil. Most anti-vaxxers are just young and havent dealt with any actual crisis or disease.
You know I felt that way about flu shots until you and I talked, so you know its a matter of trust and education in most cases.

Caravanfan's avatar

@KNOWITALL But you’re smarter than most. I have a feeling that the antivaxxers who set up a picket and protest in front of my friend’s house who is the county health officer would not be so inclined.

janbb's avatar

@KNOWITALL I don’t really see a link to the opioid crisis in this. I believe a lot of it started with the false belief, after a study that was later discredited, that vaccination caused autism. And to the larger belief, which is a big part of American culture, that there is no concept of public health and the public good, that it is only my choice what to do for my family. Hence, anti-maskers too.

Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, most young parents have grown up with no knowledge of childhood diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella. Why is that? Because they were vaccinated against them!

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora Yes, that is what I meant by the Black community talking among themselves discouraging trust regarding the medical community. Tuskegee has made a lasting impression. A horrible part of our history. Although, in the past we did all sorts of vaccine and medication “experiments” that would not be done today, they would be viewed as unethical, and many were done on white people, including white kids. So, if people look for something to scare them about the practice of medicine over time, they can find it.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Caravan Oh I see where you’re coming from. Extremists you just can’t change, sadly. My cousin the nurse was attacked by lifelong friends over Covid on social media here, so I get it.

@janbb Opioids were handed out like candy and pharma told docs they were not addictive, so they kept prescribing. Many many people have died and its very well known here due to so many addicts.

Now doctors are taught opioids are bad and wont even give them to elderly in severe chronic pain. Its a very real and horrible crisis many still deal with.
(This is a very simplified version of a serious issue.)

filmfann's avatar

I am not saying these groups are propigating this misimformation, but they do profit from it:
Social Security. They will no longer have to pay benefits
Funeral parlors Increased business
Probate lawyers Increased business
Hospitals Increased business

You get the idea.

janbb's avatar

@KNOWITALL Oh, I totally know what the opioid crisis is and how terrible it is. I just don’t see that it really relates to anti-vaxxers. But I’m willing to accept that it might be a factor. No biggie.

@filmfann I doubt that hospitals are invested in people not getting vaccinated against Covid so that they can have more business! I think they’re looking for a break.

Jeruba's avatar

@janbb, the relevance of the opioid crisis might be its effect on people’s faith in medical and quasi-medical authorities. It certainly hasn’t done much for my confidence.

I’ve also read that hospitals have been suffering financial losses because so many people have canceled or postponed elective surgeries and delayed needed treatments out of a reasonable fear of covid. They’ve had to reduce personnel or even shut down just when more facilities and staff were needed.

I truly believe that my husband would have come home from his last hospital stay if he hadn’t been taken (against our request) to a covid hotbed deep in a virus-ridden county. They simply couldn’t attend to him properly while all resources were stressed by the pandemic.

filmfann's avatar

@janbb I am saying they profit from it, not that they want it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@filmfann I hadn’t thought of those groups. That’s a different take. Thanks! I too do not think they are the ones propagating the disinformation.
I’m going with Russian, Chinese, North Korean and anarchist bots aimed at the gullible who spread it to their contacts.

JLeslie's avatar

I think Americans who have blogs and websites who get paid by advertisers might be pushing the information also. I have a QAnon friend (exfriend I guess) who posts on facebook and sends through messenger links that are sometimes a person talking for 30 minutes about their craziness regarding vaccines, or other topics.

chyna's avatar

^You haven’t blocked them?

JLeslie's avatar

@chyna I have her on sleep I think? Some sort of setting so I don’t see her anymore, but once in a while she is in the same facebook group as me and I see her on a thread. She doesn’t message me now, it’s been a long time. Maybe I blocked her on messenger too? I am not sure what I did, but I don’t have to deal with it anymore. I think she also realizes I am not interested, she still has my phone number, but never texts me any of that stuff. I don’t know if she actually identifies as Q, but she certainly is sucked into the mindset. She is not a white supremacists though. I have never seen her post one thing about immigration, and when I used to hang around with her before covid I never heard one racist thing come out of her mouth, our group is fairly diverse, her husband is part Mexican! She is just into the entire Covid is a scam by liberals to take over the world and control us, and follows the mantra of stay healthy it’s just a virus, and masks and vaccines will harm you, etc.

Dutchess_III's avatar

When did we get so dumb?

Pandora's avatar

@Dutchess_III I think people have always been this dumb or con men wouldn’t be able to make such a great living out of conning. And part of the con is always, make others believe they are so smart for seeing the truth and then sell that lie hard. I always hated the line, “you look like a bright and discerning individual.” It means you are the perfect patsy.

Jeruba's avatar

Don’t Get Taken, by the late performing magician Bob Steiner, outs cons and scam games of all kinds. He used his skills to expose frauds, often by first following the con man’s routine to draw the audience or spectator in and then exposing the cheat to show them how they’d been fooled.

LuckyGuy's avatar

It looks like Russia is behind a lot of it.

They hired a marketing firm to contract with “influencers” to spread their disinformation.
”... the brief instructed them to “Act like you have the passion and interest in this topic.”
It told them not to mention the video had a sponsor – and instead pretend they were spontaneously giving advice out of concern for their viewers.
Several Youtubers turned down the offer but one in Indian and a Brazilian succumbed to temptation and did it.

Here is the full BBC article.
The YouTubers who blew the whistle on an anti-vax plot


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