In March 2021, the Center for Countering Digital Hate released a report on “The Disinformation Dozen,” the 12 anti-vaxxers it claims are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all anti-vaccine content on social media. One of those identified is currently a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Since the launch of his presidential campaign in March, Kennedy has been appearing in podcasts, news outlets, town halls, and congressional hearings where he has disputed the anti-vaccine label often applied to him, despite his years of effort to undermine public trust in vaccines.
To understand the role that Kennedy plays in the anti-vaccine movement, the Bulletin interviewed Stephanie Alice Baker, who researches how misinformation and conspiracy theories spread online. Baker argues that what she calls “the ‘truther’ playbook” can help those potentially susceptible to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories recognize the tactics and hypocrisy of the movement’s leaders. That recognition, she says, can also help to draw them out of the anti-vax movement.
Baker’s main takeaway is clear: Disillusionment and suffering drive people to distrust institutions and to explore conspiracy theories. Mockery and shaming aren’t effective ways of bringing them out of the conspiracy web.
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