By Lena H. Sun, November 15, 2019, The Washington Post
The majority of Facebook advertisements spreading misinformation about vaccines were funded by two anti-vaccine groups, including one led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., according to a study published this week.
The World Mercury Project, headed by Kennedy, and a California-based organization called Stop Mandatory Vaccination bought 54 percent of the anti-vaccine ads on Facebook, the study found.
Researchers said the results surprised them. Much of the anti-vaccine content posted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter may appear to be organic, grass-roots discussions led by neighborhood groups and concerned parents, said David A. Broniatowski, an associate professor at George Washington University and one of the authors of the study.
“In fact,” said Broniatowski, who studies group decision-making, “what we are seeing is a small number of motivated interests that are trying to disseminate a lot of harmful content.” The small group of anti-vaccine ad buyers successfully used the ads to reach targeted audiences.
The study was conducted before Facebook changed its policies around anti-vaccine advertising, but researchers said it provides a look at how the platform has been used to spread misinformation. The study also provides a baseline for researchers to evaluate how well Facebook’s new policies are working, said Amelia Jamison, a social science researcher at the University of Maryland and another study author.