despite the indisputable health benefit of humanity, the growth of the anti-vaccine movement in Brazil has been worrying doctors and academics. In the text below, written for the blog Cadê a Cura ?, Dayane Machado and Leda Gitahy tell a little about what is behind the phenomenon and who has to gain from this cluster of conspiracy theories.
By Dayane Machado and Leda Gitahy, respectively doctoral student and professor at the Department of Scientific and Technological Policy at Unicamp
One hundred and seventy countries reported measles cases in 2019. Brazil has not only lost the certificate of eradication of the disease, but has become the sixth country in number of registered cases. Due to these and other events, the World Health Organization (WHO) considered hesitation to vaccines one of the biggest health threats of 2019.
Vaccination hesitation is a diverse set of attitudes related to immunization: there are those who refuse only a few vaccines; who postpones the vaccination schedule; who obeys the calendar but does not feel safe, among other variations.
Social networks are also responsible for spreading this distrust, as indicates a recent Avaaz survey. Almost 90% of the Portuguese YouTube videos reviewed by the organization showed some misinformation about vaccines. This result becomes even more worrying if we consider that of the people interviewed by the survey, 57% of those who did not get vaccinated claimed some rumor about vaccines as the main reason for this decision.
Facebook is one of most used platforms to spread false information about vaccines. An american research revealed that only two buyers account for most of the anti-English ads running on the social network.
Larry Cook is one of those customers. He manages Stop Mandatory Vaccinations (website and community on Facebook), which in addition to misinformation and conspiracy theories, promotes an Amazon store, where anti-vaccination books and “alternative” products are marketed.
Another businessman benefiting from anti-vaccination speech is Joseph Mercola. On his website, he attacks vaccines and advertises “alternative” products to immunization. An research conducted by the Washington Post He also revealed that the millionaire is the main supporter of the oldest anti-vaccine group in the United States, having donated more than US $ 2 million (something like R $ 8.35 million) to the association over the past decade.
This movement has also been strengthened in Brazil through social networks. One of the biggest Facebook groups opposed to vaccinations reproduces the arguments of conspiracyists, shares content on American negative websites and even broadcasts problematic events like AutismOne online.
This “congress” proposes to talk about autism, but has a session dedicated to criticizing vaccines, offers training for “health activists”, welcomes anti-vaccine movement gurus as speakers, and promotes dubious therapies and products.
When publicly confronted with these types of data, platforms promise to combat misinformation about vaccines, but the persistence in journalists' complaints about this topic indicates the low level of commitment of most of these companies. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, I already said that it does not encourage the festival of disinformation within Facebook, but neither is it opposed if "someone wants to post anti-vaccination content or wants to join one of the groups that discuss this type of idea".
Social networks are driven by attention and engagement, so that anti-vaccination content can also become profitable for these companies. Meanwhile, anti-vaccine groups are organizing and strengthening, disseminating doubts and creating new waves of hesitation.
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