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RFK Jr. Stirs Controversy with Vaccine Misinformation

Ouissal Harize Ouissal Harize
28th June 2023
RFK Jr. Stirs Controversy with Vaccine Misinformation
Kennedy was formerly considered a fringe anti-vaccine activist (Getty)

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s presence on social media platforms has sparked controversy due to his dissemination of vaccine misinformation. As tech platforms grapple with the management of misinformation, Kennedy's online campaign has gained momentum, attracting support from various alternative media figures and influential podcast hosts.

Kennedy's campaign has gained momentum, despite his attempts to downplay his anti-vaccine past. While he may minimize his stance on vaccines in certain media outlets, he consistently discusses his views, ensuring their continued prominence.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign and influence on social media platforms have caused divisions due to the spread of vaccine misinformation. While platforms like YouTube and Facebook have taken actions against his content, Kennedy's appearances on various podcasts and alternative media outlets continue to amplify his views. As misinformation policies evolve and platforms grapple with moderating content, the challenge remains to strike a balance between freedom of expression and combating the spread of false information.

Kennedy's Rising Influence

Kennedy, formerly considered a fringe anti-vaccine activist, has managed to reach a wider audience through appearances on prominent podcasts such as Joe Rogan's, the "All-In Podcast" hosted by influential tech investors, and the Jordan B. Peterson Podcast. These appearances have garnered millions of views on YouTube, where Kennedy expresses a range of conspiracy theories and unfounded claims related to vaccines and the Covid-19 pandemic. While some of these videos have been removed by YouTube, others remain accessible to viewers.

Proliferation of Medical Misinformation

A review conducted by NBC News revealed that there are still nine videos on YouTube, posted this year, in which Kennedy spreads medical misinformation regarding vaccines and the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Kennedy has appeared on Spotify in 14 podcast episodes, sharing similar misinformation. In addition to appearing on other platforms, Kennedy also hosts his own podcast on Spotify. Platforms like Twitter and Rumble, known for fostering communities of conspiracy theorists, have allowed Kennedy to freely post and livestream without any moderation concerns.

Easing of Covid Misinformation Policies

Kennedy's appearances coincide with various platforms rolling back their pandemic-era policies regarding Covid misinformation. Twitter, for instance, ceased enforcing its Covid-19 misinformation policy following Elon Musk's acquisition of the platform. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced its intention to unwind its Covid-19 misinformation policy worldwide. However, the company clarified that it would continue enforcing the policy in countries facing a declared Covid-19 public health emergency.

Platform Actions Against Kennedy

YouTube has established policies to address vaccine misinformation, removing content that disseminates harmful falsehoods about approved and administered vaccines. The platform also maintains a separate Covid-19 misinformation policy that targets content contradicting guidance from local health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has declared Covid-19 vaccines highly effective and recommends vaccinating at least 70% of populations worldwide.

YouTube has taken down three videos featuring Kennedy, including a video with Jordan B. Peterson, due to violations of its general vaccine misinformation policy. Additionally, an interview Kennedy conducted on boxer Mike Tyson's podcast was also removed by the platform. On Facebook, Kennedy has appeared in multiple videos expressing skeptical views on vaccines, baselessly linking vaccines to diseases. These videos were featured on podcaster Theo Von's show, one of which received nearly a million views on Facebook before being removed from other platforms.

Platform Responses and Remaining Challenges

Meta, the parent company of Instagram, took action against Kennedy by removing him from the platform in 2021 due to the dissemination of vaccine and Covid-19 misinformation. However, Kennedy's account was reinstated recently as he is an active presidential candidate. The Instagram and Facebook accounts of Kennedy's anti-vaccine organization, Children's Health Defense, which were suspended last year, remain inaccessible on both platforms. While the nonprofit maintains an active profile on Twitter, it has faced criticism for sharing Kennedy's appearances on Joe Rogan's Spotify podcast.

Spotify, despite featuring an advisory banner on podcasts discussing Covid-19, does not have a clear policy regarding Covid-19 misinformation. However, the streaming platform has faced backlash for allowing episodes of Joe Rogan's podcast to spread vaccine misinformation. At the time of writing, Spotify had not provided a comment regarding its approach to this issue.

Despite YouTube's actions against Kennedy, he has garnered support from alternative and conservative media outlets, particularly on Twitter. Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson defended Kennedy's anti-vaccine rhetoric on his Twitter show. Additionally, the video platform Rumble, positioning itself as a competitor to YouTube, criticized the removal of the Kennedy and Peterson video. Entrepreneur Elon Musk also weighed in, asserting the need for competition in the video-sharing landscape.

Misbar’s Sources: 



The New York Times

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