Engagement with anti-vaccine posts on a sample of UK Facebook pages trebled between July and August, analysis by the Guardian has found, triggering calls for a major new push to tackle conspiracy theories.
Interactions on posts expressing scepticism or hostility towards vaccines on six UK Facebook pages increased from 12,000 in July to 42,000 in August, according to the analysis, conducted using the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.
The pages were selected by running keyword searches on terms associated with the anti-vaccine movement, creating a list of pages that frequently shared disinformation and conspiracy theories.
A Facebook page for an alternative medicine business that has 1.9m likes shared about 50 posts expressing scepticism about vaccines during the last three months. These included posts containing conspiracy theories about Bill Gates and false claims that vaccines are a form of population control.
According to polling published this summer, 53% of the UK population said they were “certain or very likely” to take a potential Covid-19 vaccine, and a further 20% were “fairly likely to”.
Another of the pages analysed has more than 500,000 likes and posted several times linking to a feature-length followup to the Plandemic conspiracy theory video that went viral in May. One post promoting the film, hosted on a separate site, received 118,000 views. The film blames the outbreak on big pharma, Gates and the World Health Organization, and warns that wearing masks is dangerous because it “literally activates your own virus”.