Why wellness influencers are some of the biggest catalysts for health misinformation

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Wellness influencers — those who have garnered large social media followings by posting about natural remedies and new age spirituality — have contributed significantly to the country's health misinformation crisis, The Washington Post reported Sept. 12.

Though not all wellness influencers hold anti-vaccine views, those who do have been publicly expressing their mistrust about vaccines for decades before the COVID-19 pandemic. They have made repeated claims that vaccines cause autism, infertility and other irreversible reactions.

Members of online wellness groups are often vulnerable to misinformation, as many find themselves in such communities after being dismissed by the healthcare system. 

Much of the anti-vaccine discourse taking place online in the past decade has been posted in Facebook groups. Facebook began limiting anti-vaccine groups' reach and ability to promote their content via ads in 2019.

It's relatively simple for social media platforms to crack down on prominent figures who are known for spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, but it's more difficult to monitor the tens of thousands of smaller accounts that sometimes share anti-vaccine posts among their regular wellness content.

A study published in February by Washington, D.C.-based George Washington University found that Facebook can effectively shut down groups focused on COVID-19 misinformation that have millions of members, but those groups' posts often proliferate among smaller wellness groups that are partially or completely unmoderated.

Additionally, the threat of being banned or having content taken down often brings anti-vaccine social media users together, as they often create code names for terms they think might alert social media platforms' automated scanners.

Social media platforms' algorithms can also contradict their efforts to combat misinformation. The algorithms sometimes promote vaccine misinformation on accident, as they are designed to suggest the most engaging content.

 

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