Anti-vaxx Facebook groups swell nearly 300%
The number of Australians following public anti-vaxx Facebook groups grew nearly 300 per cent during the pandemic, Reset Australia has found, in direct correlation with Australia's rising vaccine hesitancy rates.
Reset Australia’s report identified 13 public Facebook groups with users based in Australia and tracked their growth between January 2020 and March 2021.
During the research period, subscription to these groups grew by 280 per cent, and as of March 2021, they had a combined total of over 115,000 members, generating more than 2.66 million interactions.
Reset Australia noted the surge in online followers coincided with Australia's growing vaccine hesitancy. A University of Melbourne survey found between October 2020 and February this year, the percentage of Australians willing to get the COVID-19 jab fell by 8.2 per cent from 74 per cent to 66 per cent.
"Reset Australia's research shows a direct correlation between surging anti-vaxx misinformation on Facebook and Australia's growing vaccine hesitancy," said Chris Cooper, executive director of the Australian affiliate of a global body fighting against digital harms to democracy and society.
"Social media has supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some people into echo chambers where false information is all they see."
The research found engagement with the Facebook groups exploded during the initial national lockdown.
Mr Cooper said public groups like those Reset Australia monitored were often gateways to private groups which shared more radical and extreme content.
"Public Facebook groups are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to track and tracing anti-vaxx and COVID-19 misinformation,” he said.
"The real danger of rampant vaccine hesitancy and scientific scepticism is tucked away in algorithm-created bubbles of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, where ideas fester and spread, unseen and unchecked by mainstream conversation.
"Previously believing the earth is flat or Bill Gates wanted to microchip the entire world would [once] have been socially isolating ... But now social media can instantly find you thousands of like-minded people who are eager to reinforce and exacerbate your misguided views."
The Reset Australia report can be found here.