Washington Post
November 18, 2019

Several news outlets including the Washington Post, the Guardian and Newsweek are reporting on a new study co-authored by University of Maryland researchers showing that the majority of Facebook advertisements spreading misinformation about vaccines were funded by two anti-vaccine groups.

The study's research team, co-led by the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Dr. Sandra C. Quinn, George Washington University’s Dr. David Broniatowski and Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. Mark Dredze, examined more than 500 vaccine-related Facebook ads from December 2018 and February 2019. They found that the World Mercury Project, led by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Stop Mandatory Vaccination bought 54 percent of the anti-vaccine ads on Facebook. The study was published in the journal Vaccine, and is the first to study anti-vaccine advertisements. 

The Washington Post and the Guardian reported that Facebook created a searchable repository in February 2018 to improve transparency, after repeatedly coming under fire for allowing the promotion of anti-vaccine material and for spreading untraceable misinformation during the Brexit referendum and 2016 US presidential campaign. 

Newsweek reported that the researchers criticize the way Facebook handles the vaccine debate because several pro-vaccine ads have been rejected after the platform labeled them as “political.” 

According to the Washington Post, in March, Facebook announced it would reject ads that include misinformation about vaccinations, 

Amelia Jamison, a faculty research assistant in the Maryland Center for Health Equity and the study’s first author, said that the study provides a baseline for researchers to evaluate how well Facebook’s new policies are working, the Washington Post wrote. The team plans to continue their research to see how the new policies will affect the spread of the anti-vaccine movement. 

Related Links

The Washington Post: Majority of anti-vaccine ads on Facebook were funded by two groups

The Guardian: Majority of anti-vaxx ads on Facebook are funded by just two organizations

Newsweek: More than half of all anti-vaccine facebook ads posted by just two groups

Inoculating Against the Spread of Viral Misinformation