With so many online platforms prohibiting anti-vaccination misinformation, how are anti-vaxxers funding their dangerous movement?
Instagram Stories is one major outlet, according to a new report from Media Matters.
The report uncovered “dozens of examples of users” weaponizing the Facebook-owned platform’s Stories feature to sell products, promote events, and even funnel Instagram users to their alternative social media platforms, where they are less likely to get banned.
One specific feature the Media Matters’ report focuses on are “link stickers,” which Instagram rolled out to all of its users late last year.
Link stickers provide users with the ability to add a link to a third-party website to their Stories content. For years, Instagram avoided allowing off-platform links, aside from the one link it allowed users to add to their profile page. Link stickers finally provided users with this function, as well as giving anti-vaxxers a way to profit off of their accounts.
According to Instagram’s terms of service, the platform will remove an account’s ability to post link stickers if they “repeatedly share things like hate speech and misinformation, or other content that violates our Community Guidelines.”
However, being that Instagram Stories are ephemeral, disappearing after 24 hours, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, and nefarious users are able to disseminate harmful misinformation and links to their followers before it can be reported.
On top of that, some anti-vaxxers deploying these methods on Instagram are using backup accounts that they realize are likely only temporary anyway. Doling out suspensions, feature removals, or other punishments for violating Instagram policies may work with most good faith users, but anti-vaxxers aren’t operating in good faith. Many are already evading bans and using accounts set up strictly to spread anti-vaccination misinformation via Instagram Stories and link stickers as quickly as they can before their latest Instagram account gets shut down, too.
Instagram has struggled over the years in dealing with anti-vaxxers on their platform. The company had taken some action against anti-vaccine misinformation, such as banning anti-vaxxer related hashtags, well before even the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet Instagram continues to provide some of the most prolific anti-vaxxer influencers in the movement with a platform. Instagram Stories and the link stickers feature provide a lifeline to these users, even if Instagram has already banned their main accounts.
Stories and link stickers being used to spread anti-vaccine misinformation is just another example of how anti-vaxxers will utilize whatever tools are at their disposal to tell the stories they want to tell — regardless of the truth.
UPDATE: Jan. 27, 2022, 3:00 p.m. EST According to a statement provided to Mashable by an Instagram spokesperson, the company has taken action against two prominent anti-vaxxers on it’s platform: Joseph Mercola and Sherri Tenpenny, who were both referenced in the Media Matters report.
Instagram’s full statement is below:
“We don’t allow people to share posts or links that discourage vaccines, or share misinformation about COVID-19. We’ve removed @drtpenny_official for breaking our rules, removed two posts from @drmercola, and have blocked the hashtag #plandemic.”