Millions are following anti-vaxxer lies: Probe reveals the vast influence of social media posts that Chris Whitty says ‘misled’ many of those now fighting Covid in hospital
- Six million people follow UK anti-vaccine social media propaganda accounts
- Social-media giants accused of a ‘moral failure’ for not curbing misinformation
- Those spreading anti-vax lies include a former Miss Great Britain, a reality TV star, a lawyer and a former GP
- Monitoring group has reported 85 accounts for breaching social-media rules – but more than half are still active
A staggering six million people follow UK accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok that pump out anti-vaccine propaganda, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Social-media giants have been accused of a ‘moral failure’ for not curbing the torrent of misinformation, which Boris Johnson last week blasted as online ‘mumbo-jumbo’.
England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty also blamed anti-vaxxers on the internet for creating intensive care wards of unvaccinated patients fighting Covid-19.
An investigation by the MoS today reveals those spreading misinformation on social media include a former Miss Great Britain, a reality TV star, a lawyer and a former GP.
Technology giants claim they are cracking down on anti-vax propaganda but Imran Ahmed, from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, accused them of putting profit before public health.
A staggering six million people follow UK accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok that pump out anti-vaccine propaganda, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. Pictured: Katy-Jo Murfin, a former West End stage performer, poses as Dolly Parton in an anti-vax video
An investigation by the MoS today reveals those spreading misinformation on social media include a former Miss Great Britain, a reality TV star, a lawyer and a former GP. Pictured: Former reality TV star Jay Gardner, who appeared in Geordie Shore, regularly posts anti-vaccine and conspiracy theories to his 800,000 Twitter followers
‘The big social-media platforms are failing to act against the biggest super-spreaders of disinformation and the reason is because disinformation about vaccines drives traffic, drives engagement on their sites and increases advertising revenues,’ he said.
‘We are witnessing a cynical moral failure by these corporations who are willing to let the world burn as long as it boosts their profits.’
Monitoring group NewsGuard said it had reported 85 accounts for breaching social-media platform rules at the start of the pandemic – but more than half are still active.
And Dr Tim Squirrell, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue which analyses online misinformation, said: ‘Platforms are systematically failing to act decisively against anti-vaccine content.’
Among the accounts spreading anti-vaccine misinformation is that of Leilani Dowding, 41, a former Miss Great Britain and Page 3 glamour model, who has attracted more than 90,000 followers
Vernon Coleman (left), a former GP who previously claimed AIDS was a hoax, peddles anti-vax lies to his 216,000 YouTube followers. Anna de Buisseret (right), 56, a lawyer with 24,000 Twitter followers, last week claimed that vaccinated people had been ‘deceived, lied to, coerced, threatened, intimidated’
The MoS found hundreds of examples on social media. Among the accounts spreading anti-vaccine misinformation is that of Leilani Dowding, 41, a former Miss Great Britain and Page 3 glamour model, who has attracted more than 90,000 followers.
Writing on Instagram, where her profile describes her as a ‘Freedom Fighting Refusenik’, she said ‘nutrition and vitamins can prevent or lessen the symptoms of it [Covid].
Exposed: Leader of ex-Army group that’s plotting mayhem
Two hundred members of a sinister anti-vax group met in a Staffordshire park yesterday to practise smashing through police lines.
An undercover Mail on Sunday reporter joined black-clad supporters of Alpha Men Assemble (AMA) led by ex-Royal Fusilier Danny Glass (left) for a combat-style training camp.
Setting out the group’s strategy at Chasewater Country Park, Glass, 46, said: ‘We are targeting the police… we are going to be arresting police officers for failing to uphold their common-law oath.’
A woman called Sophie told the crowd that Covid vaccines were killing people. ‘We need to target vaccine centres, schools, councils and local directors of public health… we are doing this for our children,’ she said.
Supporters were put through their paces by an Army veteran called Gary who wore a green Royal Irish Regiment beret. At one point, three rows of five men linked arms to practise how to force their way through police lines.
‘Pretend I am WPC Doris just out of Hendon [police college] and march towards me,’ yelled Gary. ‘You look pretty intimidating, I think I would have just wet myself.’
Boxing and kickboxing drills followed before a tug-of-war. At the end, Glass – who also belongs to a secret band of ex-Army veterans plotting a campaign of mayhem – said: ‘We are taking it to the Old Bill. It’s not going to be for the faint-hearted.’
AMA has 7,000 followers on the encrypted Telegram social media app. But Glass, from Angmering, West Sussex, is also linked to Veterans With Purpose, whose founder has spoken of ‘arresting’ MPs and other public figures and locking them in cages. The group was formed last year from the remnants of Veterans 4 Freedom, which disbanded when the MoS revealed it was plotting to attack vaccine centres and staff.
Last night, AMA said it did not seek to incite violence. Glass did not respond to a request to comment.
On Twitter, she wrote: ‘I Will NOT be part of their real world experiment’, and on Facebook she posted: ‘2 years on my unvaxxed self had NOT had Covid!! Not after all the protests I’ve been to, the thousands of people I’ve hugged, having never worn a mask.’
Approached for comment, she said: ‘I absolutely stand by what I said. I’m never going to have the vaccine. I just don’t believe the science behind it.’
Former reality TV star Jay Gardner, who appeared in Geordie Shore, regularly posts anti-vaccine and conspiracy theories to his 800,000 Twitter followers.
Last month, he tweeted ‘These guys telling you to take all these shots have absolutely 0 idea of any long term damage, but we will force you to do it anyway’, and in August, he wrote: ‘Wait until the microchips (which the pentagon are now developing) that can detect Covid 19 within the blood, come into play.’
Mr Gardner, 34, declined to comment last night.
Vernon Coleman, a former GP who previously claimed AIDS was a hoax, peddles anti-vax lies to his 216,000 YouTube followers.
In one video he says: ‘I would rather be dead than have one of these absurd, unnecessary vaccine for Covid-19 that could alter my body, my mind and my soul.’
Addressing a rally of anti-vaxxers in London in July, he described Covid jabs as ‘toxic material’ and ‘napalm’.
YouTube, which says it has removed more than 130,000 videos of Covid-19 misinformation since October 2020, last night ‘terminated’ Dr Coleman’s account for policy violations.
Anna de Buisseret, 56, a lawyer with 24,000 Twitter followers, last week claimed that vaccinated people had been ‘deceived, lied to, coerced, threatened, intimidated, harassed, guilt tripped and shamed into taking part in this live human experiment’.
Last night she said: ‘I am not “anti-vaccine”, I am against the use of experimental gene treatments.’
Another anti-vaxxer is Katy-Jo Murfin, 40, a former West End stage performer. The daughter of actor Karl Howman, who played Jacko in 1980s sitcom Brush Strokes, she has called vaccines ‘rape on a cellular level’.
She did not respond to a request for comment. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said it had removed accounts held by Ms Dowding, Ms Murfin and Ms de Buisseret that ‘repeatedly violated’ their policies as well as more than 20 million pieces of harmful Covid misinformation.
Twitter said it would ‘continue to take enforcement action on content and accounts that advance demonstrably false or misleading claims about Covid-19’ and TikTok said it ‘works diligently to take action on misinformation’.
SAJID JAVID: It’s disappointing Novak Djokovic is fuelling scepticism about our vital vaccines
BySajid Javid Health Secretary For The Mail On Sunday
Like so many people, I’ve been appalled by the behaviour of anti-vaccination fanatics, who’ve been causing senseless disruption in recent weeks, at schools, testing centres and even a children’s pantomime.
I saw for myself how dangerous they could be when protesters arrived at my house last weekend, telling my young daughter that her father was a murderer.
We know that these radicals are a small minority of a small minority. Most people who have not yet been vaccinated have genuine concerns and are not extreme anti-vaxxers like those who targeted me.
But we need to call out the dangerous nonsense pushed around by some, because the case for getting the jab has only become more overwhelming.
It’s been disappointing to see Novak Djokovic, with a huge global following, fuelling scepticism about vaccines. But we can’t rely on public figures alone to show leadership, writes Health Secretary Sajid Javid
Billions of people across the world have now had a Covid vaccine, and over a year since they started going into arms here in the UK, the impact is clear.
Recent data from the UK Health Security Agency shows that people who have not been vaccinated are up to eight times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid.
We also know that in England as many as 90 per cent of Covid patients admitted to intensive care last month hadn’t had a booster and more than 60 per cent hadn’t had any vaccination at all.
We’ve heard tragic stories from those working on the frontline that intensive care units are full of patients who wish they could go back in time and get vaccinated, but that it’s sadly too late.
Like so many people, I’ve been appalled by the behaviour of anti-vaccination fanatics, who’ve been causing senseless disruption in recent weeks, at schools, testing centres and even a children’s pantomime
However, people who don’t get the jab are not only putting themselves at risk, they’re putting this nation’s recovery at risk too, leaving us exposed to the powerful force of this Omicron wave and future potential variants.
On Friday I visited King’s College Hospital in London, where I heard from clinicians on the front line about the intense pressures they are facing this winter.
This pressure will only intensify over the next few weeks, and every person we keep out of hospital through a simple jab means a bed for another patient, whether it’s for Covid or for non-Covid care.
One consultant told me his team estimated a shocking 70 per cent of Covid patients taking up beds in intensive care were unvaccinated.
Their choice not to get vaccinated has clearly taken a toll not just on them as individuals but on wider society. And yet that same consultant later told me that he still hadn’t had a vaccine.
This shows how much we still have to do to make the case for everyone making that positive decision to get the jab.
I am a passionate believer in individual liberty and people’s ability to make choices about what’s best for them.
So although we’ve seen plans for universal mandatory vaccinations in some countries, I would never support them here; and it was important to me that the Covid Pass should have a testing route to proving eligibility, not just vaccination.
That belief in freedom goes hand in hand with a belief we all have a duty to use our freedoms responsibly, so as not to threaten the safety or freedoms of others.
Choices have consequences – so now is a time for choosing. The unvaccinated must acknowledge that the reason they could have a Christmas without last year’s curbs is because so many made a different choice.
A fan of Serbia’s Novak Djokovic waves a flag in the arrivals hall at Melbourne Airport ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia on Thursday
If we allow the protective wall we’ve built through the vaccination programme to weaken, we’ll all be at risk.
We’ve reached the milestone of nine in ten eligible over-50s getting boosted in England, but for as long as there are people unprotected, there’s more work to do.
This isn’t just a job for Government. Every one of us has a part to play, and those in the public eye have a particular responsibility to show leadership and use their influence for good. It’s been disappointing to see Novak Djokovic, with a huge global following, fuelling scepticism about vaccines.
But we can’t rely on public figures alone to show leadership. Most of us know someone who hasn’t got the jab and everyone can do their bit by helping address concerns they may have – whether a family member or a friend.
Tackling disparities between communities is something I care about deeply and although we’ve seen some monumental progress, we cannot deny there are worrying disparities in vaccine uptake.
I’m proud to be the first Health Secretary from an ethnic minority, and I’d say to anyone who’s unsure about getting the jab: let’s make sure that the devastating and disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on our communities doesn’t become greater.
Please get the jab if you’re eligible, and if you’ve had it, persuade your loved ones to do the same. It might not be an easy conversation, but it could save their life.
Vaccination is one of the most important choices we will make. So please do your bit to help us withstand the Omicron wave, and keep this country safe and free.
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