Despite Crackdown, Anti-Vaxx Memes Are Somehow Thriving On Instagram

Nordroden / Getty

Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, has a new policy about vaccine information, but it’s not having nearly enough impact

In March, Facebook announced that it would crack down on vaccine misinformation across its platforms, which includes Instagram. But a quick search of vaccine-related hashtags reveals that the the wildly popular image-based social network is teeming with false information about vaccines, from wild government conspiracies to vaccine-related injuries, to falsified numbers and fake studies.

The Facebook policy, which has ostensibly been enacted on Instagram, promises that anti-vaxx people and organizations would lose their ranking and not appear in recommendations or searches. They also promised to stop buying ads that contain anti-vaxx themes and to stop showing anti-vaxx groups in hashtag results.

While this all sounds good, it just doesn’t seem to be working to stop the false messages from getting through.

A spokesperson for Instagram told CNN Business last month that the photo-based platform would block hashtags with harmful anti-vaxx messaging such as, #vaccinescauseautism, #vaccinesarepoison, and #vaccinescauseaids.

A quick search reveals a staggering number of anti-vaxx propaganda in seconds. And it’s bad.

For example, there were over 20,000 posts that included the hashtag #vaccineskill, many of which had anti-immunization themes and false info.

Lots of the anti-vaxx memes rely on disturbing imagery, like a baby being attacked by needles.

Others just plain lie about vaccines containing poison and being “not natural.” As if something that contains preservatives is worse than dying of the measles.

And many blame behavioral issues and autism on vaccines – instead of learning about the real reason that these conditions are on the rise (and, relatedly, many of these memes are extremely insulting to those who have autism or have kids on the spectrum).

#Vaccineinjury isn’t any better – there is mountains of fear-mongering and false information, creating a frightening story that vaccines can injure or kill your children, and that the Centers for Disease Control, the government, and the pharmaceutical industry is hiding all of the real data from us. It also has a number of repeating narratives that start to sound valid once you read through enough of them.

Many of the memes spread a false narrative that big pharma is being sued repeatedly for dangerous vaccines, but that the public doesn’t know about it – this information is either greatly misconstrued or simply false.

Others contain completely falsified and ridiculous claims.

And many contain the narrative that the government is pushing deadly vaccines that kill babies to make a buck or two.

As you can see, even by reading our examples, looking at multiple anti-vaxx memes can have an effect on your thinking – and that’s even more true of people who might lack an education, or new parents who lack confidence about what they need to do to keep their kids safe.

On top of all of this is an outbreak of measles cases across the United States and the globe. More than 700 cases have been reported in the U.S. alone – a number that’s up 300 percent from last year, and that is higher than any other year in the past two decades. The reason? Experts say “vaccination hesitation” from parents who are in social media echo chambers are a huge part of the problem.

Facebook stated, “We also believe in providing people with additional context so they can decide whether to read, share, or engage in conversations about information they see on Facebook. We are exploring ways to give people more accurate information from expert organizations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on Pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic. We will have an update on this soon.”

It sounds like their heart is in the right place, but when it comes to stoping false information on Instagram, it simply doesn’t seem to be working well enough.