COVID-19

Australia’s top misinformation superspreaders

Some of these individuals now boast more than 100,000 followers on Facebook alone — and while that social platform and YouTube have been pulling down some risky posts — health and digital media experts want misinformation superspreaders de-platformed. Here are 10 influencers whose posts have gone viral, according to CrowdTangle.1. Malcolm Roberts (84,000+ followers)CLAIMS: His video against vaccine passports being “no different to a vaccine prison” was viewed 129,000 times on Facebook. In the video, he argues the Federal Government’s vaccination certification is a form of “coercion” and will stop unvaccinated people “going to the pub” or travelling, and “unless you are vaccinated, you will have your rights taken away from you”. He also expresses “concern” about the current Covid vaccines, saying “we simply don’t know about the effects”. Mr Roberts regularly posts about Covid vaccines on his Facebook page, claiming there has been “no testing on the female reproductive systems”. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Griffith University infectious diseases epidemiologist Professor Paul Van Buynder says vaccines do not affect fertility (though Covid infections can) and “studies after vaccinating millions of pregnant women have shown no increase in miscarriage or abnormalities in newborns”. World Health Organisation adviser and epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws says Mr Roberts’ claims about not knowing the effects of tested and approved Covid vaccines are “mischievous,” and she says any vaccine passport could be used to “more rapidly process people at mass events” without excluding those who cannot or will not take a vaccine. 2. Real Rukshan (34,000+ followers)CLAIMS: Mr Rukshan’s 12-minute Facebook video questioning UK chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance’s “censored” comments on the health of double-vaccinated patients went viral on July 20, with more than 154,000 views. In it, Mr Rukshan claims “there is this cover-up being done by social media, it’s harder to find this video” and “there’s something fishy going on”. In a press conference, Mr Vallance had said 60 per cent of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 had been double-vaccinated — a claim he later publicly correctly to mean unvaccinated people. Mr Rukshan also believes that requirements for nursing home staff to be vaccinated are “unconstitutional,” that a Sydney anti-lockdown protester did not punch a horse, and that the US Make-A-Wish Foundation is refusing to grant wishes to unvaccinated children (the restrictions only apply to wishes involving air travel or large gatherings). WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Professor McLaws says England’s public health reports regularly show “being vaccinated has reduced mortality and infection rates remarkably” along with hospitalisation. While she says “no vaccine is 100 per cent effective in preventing deaths, these vaccines protect remarkably well”. Professor McLaws says campaigns against vaccinating all nursing home staff are dangerous. “I would ask him where is one’s duty of care to look after the very vulnerable? Those who are 70 and over represented 90 per cent of all (Covid) deaths.” 3. Informed Medical Options Party (32,000+ followers)CLAIMS: A video calling Covid-19 vaccines “dangerous and deadly” in March received more than 120,000 views. In it, representative Michael O’Neill said two elderly men died in Port Macquarie, NSW, after receiving what he called the “experimental” Pfizer vaccine and it was “very wrong” that Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration was investigating after it had rapidly approved the vaccine for use. Mr O’Neill also posted a video defending those who protested the Sydney lockdown. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: “The speed at which the world and world scientists put a vaccine to the marketplace doesn’t mean that corners were cut,” Professor McLaws says. “(At WHO meetings) there was a unanimous vote that no corners would be cut.” She says greater funding, “urgent meetings,” and “so many volunteers” helped accelerate testing. Professor Van Buynder says lockdowns “contribute to the overall control strategy”. He says lockdowns have helped stop “disease spread in Australia before the arrival of the Delta strain”. 4. Riccardo Bosi (101,000+ followers)CLAIMS: In December, a YouTube video from Riccardo Bosi detailing a “vaccine cover-up” — a safe vaccine hidden from the public — went viral and was viewed more than 82,000 times. Mr Bosi claims a vaccine being developed by Australian researcher Professor Nikolai Petrovsky was more effective than current vaccines but “our government is going to poison us” and “they will kill you” even though “there are ample alternatives”. In a long-running vlog, with videos posted outside Facebook to avoid moderation, Mr Bosi has argued that lockdowns cause 10 times more deaths than Covid-19. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Professor McLaws says that while it’s “disappointing that governments don’t have an endless supply of money to develop vaccines” as many as 80 per cent of vaccines in development do not pass phase one and two testing.5. Seeds of Awareness (48,000+ followers)CLAIMS: A video from an “awake doctor” denying that Covid-19 met the definition of a pandemic and saying it only harmed “a very, very small proportion of Americans” was shared on this Facebook page in September and viewed more than 97,000 times. This group, founded by Matthew Stephen and promising to help users transcend “the matrix control system,” shares anti-vaccination content, encourages Australians not to use QR codes to check in at venues, and calls government advice “propaganda”. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: “Just because a doctor may not see a lot of Covid patients doesn’t mean (the virus) is not out there,” Professor McLaws says. “That might be correct for his particular state in America but it doesn’t mean it’s correct for the wider community.” Professor McLaws also says general practitioners take “one quick course” in infectious diseases while epidemiologists must complete a masters degree and PhD. 6. Morgan C. Jonas (40,000+ followers)CLAIMS: An anti-vaccine video blogger who urges his followers not to be tested for Covid-19 went viral in April for a Facebook video asking why the government was paying “pro-vaccine actors” to appear in ads. The video was viewed more than 47,000 times. In it, Mr Jonas called the current Australian vaccination rollout a “clinical trial”. Mr Jonas also operates a website warning “the media is lying to you” where he regularly posts anti-vaccination content. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Mr Jonas’ claims about Australians being part of a “clinical trial” was a “misunderstanding,” Professor McLaws says. She says the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation look at results from phase three trials before making vaccines publicly available, as well as safety data reported to international medical bodies. 7. Rod Culleton’s Great Australian Party (50,000+ followers)CLAIMS: Rod Culleton’s post in July defended Clive Palmer’s advertising campaign against Covid-19 vaccinations and claimed “there is no pandemic in Australia”. It received more than 3100 reactions. More recently he’s claimed that people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Australia probably have “the common flu” due to testing issues. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: “At this time, over 400 million cases of Covid-19 disease have occurred worldwide with over 4.25 million deaths,” Professor Van Buynder says, dismissing the claim there was no pandemic. Furthermore, he says “a person infected with the Delta strain infects about five other people compared to about 1.5 with the flu, and influenza kills about one person in a thousand — about one tenth of the Covid-19 death rate overall.”8. Australian Vaccination Risks Network (42,000+ followers)CLAIMS: The renamed Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network posted a video seen 46,000 times in July after a posting a call to action against federal government plans to share details people taking the “experimental Covid genetic modification device”. In June the AVN attracted 43,000 views for an interview with a Canadian activist who launched legal action against a vaccine “control agenda”. In a bid to evade Facebook moderation, the group says it is now hosting chats on the Telegram platform. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Professor Van Buynder says Covid vaccines train human immune systems to make antibodies against “a spike protein on its surface” so it can recognise and fight the virus. “This occurs without any modifications of the body’s DNA and is simply the usual way the body recognises and fights foreign proteins,” he says. Professor McLaws says this group’s claims should be “starved of oxygen”. 9. Reignite Democracy Australia (66,000+ followers)CLAIMS: A petition claiming the Covid-19 vaccine manufactured “by people who openly admit to wanting population control” was shared 957 times on Facebook in November last year. The political party, founded by Monica Smit, posts anti-Covid-19 vaccination information including claims the vaccine weakens immune systems and is untested medication, and encourages followers to avoid being tested. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Professor McLaws says claims that Covid vaccines weaken immune systems or have not been tested are “completely fallacious” and “wickedly inaccurate”. She says Australia doesn’t see polio cases any more due to a successful vaccination rollout. 10. Joel Jammal (21,000+ followers)CLAIMS: The host of Riccardo Bosi’s video blog won another 37,000 views for his expose on the so called cover-up of a more effective Covid-19 vaccine in December. Mr Jammal also released a video of himself at the Sydney lockdown demanding information about Ivermectin as a way of treating and preventing Covid-19. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Professor McLaws says medical investigations into the use of Ivermectin as a way to treat or prevent Covid-19 showed it was unsuitable and could prove deadly. A meeting of the WHO, she says, heard “it wasn’t solving any problem because the level at which it worked was so toxic (patients) could have had life-threatening organ failure. It seemed like a good idea at the time and lots of drugs do. A lot of drugs fail phase one and two trials.”

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