Stop Mandatory Vaccination

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The Stop Mandatory Vaccination website and associated Facebook group are some of the major hubs of the American anti-vaccination movement. It was established by anti-vaccination activist Larry Cook in 2015.

Reach[edit]

The total membership of the public Facebook page and the private group reached 360,000 before it got closed down in November 2020. The website is owned by Larry Cook, who describes himself as a "healthy lifestyle advocate." A former sound technician and Executive Director of the California Naturopathic Doctors Association, he first used social media platforms to promote conspiracy theories and ineffective treatments for autism before he became a leader of the anti-vaccination movement although he has no medical background.[1][2][3][4] He created the site in 2015, in reaction to California limiting exemptions to vaccination requirements in schools.[5]

Members used the Facebook group to disseminate conspiracy theories, for example stating that news about epidemics are manufactured by governments to incite people to vaccinate[1][2][6], that the public health measures taken to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic aim at preparing mass forced vaccination or that the 1918 influenza epidemic was caused by vaccines.[7] During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cook used the group to oppose mask-wearing legislation in certain situations. Cook wrote that opposing mask-wearing is a precondition to opposing COVID-19 vaccines when they would become available.[8]

Both Facebook and Twitter removed the Stop Mandatory Vaccination accounts from their platform in November 2020, as part of their measures to limit the spread of QAnon misinformation. After losing his Facebook presence, Cook created a website specifically about COVID-19, Qanon and parenting, but it has been growing slowly.[9][10][11]

Interaction with grieving parents[edit]

The Facebook group was at the center of a controversy over the death of a four-year-old boy whose mother asked for advice from group members, rather than getting the Tamiflu that she had been prescribed by a health professional for a bout of Influenza that left him feverish and experiencing seizures. The advice that she received pointed to various ineffective treatments popular with naturopaths, such as breastmilk, thyme, and elderberry. The child was later hospitalized and died.[1][3][12][13]

Along with other anti-vaccination activists like Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree, Cook seeks to use testimonies of parents who lost young children to causes such as sudden infant death syndrome and accidental asphyxiation but became convinced that vaccines were really to blame for the tragedy. Stop Mandatory Vaccination circulates a number of those stories, which are highly effective at growing both the revenues of both the anti-vaccination movement and the website. In some cases, grieving parents are contacted online by anti-vaccination activists, who suggest their infant's death to be linked to vaccination, and they then share links to the website or Facebook group.[14]

The Facebook group has been used by anti-vaccination activists to identify and issue threats against parents who encourage other parents to have their children vaccinated and to feed intimidation campaigns, which are waged on social media. Grieving parents who discuss how their children died from complication of preventable diseases such as the flu report intimidation by anti-vaccination activists. Doctors who promote vaccination online are also targeted.

Cook says that he does not condone such attacks, but people promoting vaccination "can expect push back and resistance."[15][16][17]

In 2020, Cook created a more overtly-political group, Medical Freedom Patriots. The anti-vaccine group supports the Republican Party and aims at putting pressure on elected officials by mobilizing a far-right target audience.[18]

Cook claims that he received threats because of his online activities and that members of the Facebook group were visited by police officers.[15]

Funding and advertising[edit]

Cook funds the site by donations, advertising, and the sales of his own book and of t-shirts. Since 2015, he has raised more than $100,000 through GoFundMe campaigns, which he used to buy Facebook ads bringing parents to his Facebook group. Other donations come in through PayPal, website advertising, and his Amazon storefront, where he gets a portion of the sales of the anti-vaccination literature that he recommends. In 2019, revenue from his YouTube account dried up since the company stopped running advertising on anti-vaccination videos, and he had to find other platforms after GoFundMe canceled his account.[2][3][14][5]

Cook advertises that donations fund anti-vaccination initiatives, but the money is directed to his personal bank account and serves to pay his personal expenses.[3][10]

A study found that Stop Mandatory Vaccination was one of the major buyers of anti-vaccine Facebook advertising in December 2018 and February 2019, the other being Children's Health Defense. Heavily targeting women and young couples, the advertising campaign highlighted the alleged risks of vaccines and asked for donations. Advertising purchases by both groups contribute to vaccine hesitancy and ultimately to epidemics.[19][20][21]

According to an analysis by NBC News, the group is one of three major sources of false claims on vaccination shared on the internet, the others being both the fake news site Natural News and Children's Health Defense.[22]

In 2018, after it followed up on a parent complaint, the British Advertising Standards Authority had Facebook ads from Stop Mandatory Vaccination taken down for making misleading claims and causing "undue distress." The messages said that vaccines kill children and that doctors often report those death as sudden infant death syndrome.[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Zadrozny, Brandy (2020-02-06). "On Facebook, anti-vaxxers urged a mom not to give her son Tamiflu. He later died". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2020-02-12. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  2. ^ a b c Carrie Wong, Julia (2019-03-05). "Revealed: AmazonSmile helps fund anti-vaccine groups". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2020-02-12. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  3. ^ a b c d Francis, Lizzy (2020-02-11). "Meet Larry Cook, the Villain Behind the Facebook Anti-Vaxx Scandal". Fatherly. Archived from the original on 2020-02-12. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  4. ^ "Larry Cook - About". Stop Mandatory Vaccination. Archived from the original on 2020-02-27. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  5. ^ a b Dickinson, Tim (10 February 2021). "How the Anti-Vaxxers Got Red-Pilled". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 12 February 2021. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  6. ^ Gammon, Katarine (2020-04-16). "How the anti-vaccine community is responding to COVID-19". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 2020-04-18. Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  7. ^ "False claim: the 1918 influenza pandemic was caused by vaccines". Reuters. 2020-04-01. Archived from the original on 2020-04-17. Retrieved 2020-04-17.
  8. ^ Wiley, Hannah (26 June 2020). "'No masks. No vaccines.' Battle is brewing over coronavirus immunizations in California". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on 2 July 2020. Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  9. ^ Sulleyman, Aatif (18 November 2020). "Facebook Bans One of the Anti-Vaccine Movement's Biggest Groups for Violating QAnon Rules". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 19 November 2020. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  10. ^ a b "Pandemic Profiteers" (PDF). Center for Countering Digital Hate. Center for Countering Digital Hate. June 1, 2021. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 June 2021. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  11. ^ Cook, Larry. "COVID-19 Refusers". COVID-19 Refusers. Archived from the original on 15 January 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  12. ^ Petkovic, Dusan (2020-02-10). "Colorado boy dies of flu after mom tries anti-vaccine Facebook group suggestions to use elderberries and thyme instead of doctor's flu medicine". Newsweek. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  13. ^ Schmidt, Madeleine (2020-02-06). "Anti-Vax Facebook Group Told CO Mom to Give Son Elderberries Instead of Tamiflu. Days Later He Died". Colorado Times Recorder. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
  14. ^ a b Zadrozny, Brandy; Nadi, Aliza (2019-09-24). "How anti-vaxxers target grieving moms and turn them into crusaders against vaccines". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2020-02-12. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  15. ^ a b Cohen, Elizabeth; Bonifield, John (2019-03-21). "Her son died. And then anti-vaxers attacked her". CNN Health. Archived from the original on 2020-03-01. Retrieved 2020-03-01. I do not condone violent behavior or tone and encourage decorum during discussion, Cook wrote, adding that anyone who deliberately engage[s] in the politics of advocating for compulsory vaccination where children may be further damaged through government vaccine mandates can expect push back and resistance, alongside knowledgeable discussions about vaccine risk in social media commentary.
  16. ^ Carbone, Christopher (2019-02-28). "Doctors on Facebook face harassment from anti-vaxxers". Fox News. Archived from the original on 2020-03-01. Retrieved 2020-03-01.
  17. ^ Gorski, David (2019-03-25). "Shots Heard: When the antivaccine movement swarms and harasses on social media, what can we do?". Science-Based Medicine. Archived from the original on 2020-02-28. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
  18. ^ Butlet, Kiera (18 June 2020). "The Anti-Vax Movement's Radical Shift From Crunchy Granola Purists to Far-Right Crusaders". Mother Jones. Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  19. ^ Sun, Lena H. (November 15, 2019). "Majority of anti-vaccine ads on Facebook were funded by two groups". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 17, 2019. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  20. ^ "Inoculating against the spread of viral misinformation". Science Daily. 2019-11-14. Archived from the original on 2020-03-01. Retrieved 2020-03-01.
  21. ^ Jamison, A.M.; Broniatowski, D. A.; Dredze, M. (November 13, 2019). "Vaccine-related advertising in the Facebook Ad Archive". Vaccine. 38 (3): 512–520. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2019.10.066. PMC 6954281. PMID 31732327 – via Sciencedirect.
  22. ^ Zadrozny, Brandy (2019-12-29). "Social media hosted a lot of fake health news this year. Here's what went most viral". NBC News. Archived from the original on 2020-01-03. Retrieved 2020-01-03.
  23. ^ Barnes, Tom (2018-11-07). "Anti-vaccination campaign's advert banned for claiming all vaccines can kill children". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2020-03-01. Retrieved 2020-03-01.