Disinformation, Misinformation, and the Anti-Vax Campaign
Delegitimizing the Covid vaccines isn’t just about spreading the perception that they’re not effective
This is an odd moment in the history of the Covid-19 pandemic. On the one hand, developing countries around the world are clamoring for Covid vaccines, access to which has so far been dominated largely by wealthy countries. At the same time, there’s a burgeoning anti-vaccination campaign in those wealthy countries that’s doing everything it can to sow distrust and skepticism of the very vaccines developing countries can’t even get their hands on. Americans and Western Europeans are in the uniquely privileged position of being able to easily protect themselves against Covid. But anti-vaxxers are working very hard to convince them not to.
An especially dramatic example of this kind of anti-vax work was flagged by the Wall Street Journal earlier this week when it reported that several French social media influencers said they had been approached by a mysterious marketing firm called Fazze, which offered to pay them to make false claims about the safety of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine. (The French are already more skeptical of vaccines than Americans and other Europeans, so they’re a logical target for this kind of targeted disinformation campaign.) And in a follow-up story, the Washington Post reported that influencers in other countries reported similar approaches.
Exactly who is behind these overtures remains a mystery, although French counterintelligence authorities apparently believe the Russian government may be responsible. But the story is a useful reminder that anti-vax efforts are often not simply organic expressions of people’s anxieties and fears, but rather orchestrated campaigns meant to serve broader political and cultural ends. That’s certainly the case in the U.S., where hostility to the Covid vaccines has become wrapped up in the ongoing culture war between liberals and conservatives. Spreading the misperception that the vaccines are not safe helps delegitimize them, and has become a way to paint liberals as power-hungry elites who want everyone to fall in line and get vaccinated, regardless of safety. And in this campaign, one tool has become essential: the government’s Vaccine Adverse Event…