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How Misinformation About COVID Vaccines and Pregnancy Took Root Early On and Why It Won’t Go Away

Pro Publica: “Before coronavirus vaccines were even released, a disinformation campaign used a moment of national and personal vulnerability to prey on those who were pregnant or who planned to become pregnant.But that was only the beginning. Misinformation seeped into every corner of social media, onto Facebook feeds and into Instagram images, pregnancy apps and Twitter posts. Pregnant people emerged as a target. A disinformation campaign preyed on their vulnerability, exploiting a deep psychological need to protect their unborn children at a moment when so much of the country was already gripped by fear. “It’s just so powerful,” said Imran Ahmed, the founder and chief executive officer of the U.S. nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, which tracks online disinformation. A majority of the disinformation came from a group of highly organized, economically motivated actors, many of them selling supplements, books or even miracle cures, he said. They told people the vaccine may harm their unborn child or deprive them of the opportunity to become parents. Some even infiltrated online pregnancy groups and asked seemingly harmless questions, such as whether people had heard the vaccine could potentially lead to infertility.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate found that nearly 70% of anti-vaccination content could be traced to 12 people, whom they dubbed The Disinformation Dozen. They reached millions of people and tested their messaging online, Ahmed said, to see what was most effective — what was most frequently shared or liked — in real time. “The unregulated and unmoderated effects of social media where people are allowed to spread disinformation at scale without consequences meant that this took hold very fast,” Ahmed said. “That’s had a huge effect on women deciding not to take the vaccine.”…

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