BARMY anti-vaxxers are spreading wild conspiracy theories on Facebook linking the coronavirus to everything from Bill Gates to the New World Order – while questioning if it’s even a pandemic at all.
As the Government races to find a cure for Covid-19 by autumn, the Arnica Parents’ Support Network is continuing to plug anti-vaccination propaganda to nearly 40,000 people, with members sharing bogus remedies and myths like the discredited 5G hoax.
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The group, founded by Anna Watson in 2009, is a portal for campaigners against all vaccinations, despite evidence that they have eradicated diseases like polio and diphtheria and had almost eradicated measles.
In scaremongering messages uncovered by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, members have suggested the flu jab was contaminated with coronavirus – with some, including key workers like carers, claiming the pandemic was “exaggerated” by the media.
“It is alarming that tens of thousands of people are being exposed to conspiracy theories and false medical advice in this Facebook group,” says Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
“It’s clear that the purpose of this group is to spread medical misinformation. If a vaccine is developed for Coronavirus, groups like these will be actively encouraging people to refuse vaccinations, putting everyone at risk.”
Anti-vaxx influncer behind movement
Mum-of-two Anna Watson, from London, began protesting against vaccination in children in 2007.
Contacted by the Sun Online, she insists moderation has been stepped up on the Facebook page – the UK’s largest anti-vaccination group – and that dozens of posts are now being deleted every day.
As well as running the group and selling homeopathic health treatments through her company, the 54-year-old is the Secretary of the European Forum for Vaccine Vigilance, which boasts discredited ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield as an honorary member.
The disgraced medic published a paper linking the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) to autism in children, a claim that was disproved.
In 2010, he was found to have been “dishonest” by the General Medical Council, and barred from practising medicine in the UK.
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‘Virus is exaggerated’
The Arnica Facebook page – whose followers include frontline NHS staff – has hosted numerous messages downplaying the pandemic, including from key workers.
One carer says she doesn’t think “we would die from the virus” and believes the media has “exaggerated the virus because it comes from China”.
Posters have gone further still by claiming it’s not a pandemic at all – despite a current death toll of 12,107 in the UK and more than 120,000 reported globally.
One member wrote: “200,000 people worldwide have supposedly contracted Coronavirus. Out of 7.7billion people in the world that equates to 0.00259% of the population being infected in the past 4 months.”
“If we put that into context it’s hardly a pandemic now is it? So, what exactly are we all scared of again??”
Watson herself questioned the testing process, writing: “If there is just a 1% false positive rate and a 1% fail rate then this would mean that every day in the UK 100 people would test positive when they weren’t and 100 people would be positive but would test negative (@10,000 a day).”
5G hoaxes & Bill Gates conspiracy
Dangerous conspiracy theories shared on the site include the rumour that the 5G network was responsible for the virus – a hoax given credence by a number of celebrities including Eamonn Holmes, who was yesterday forced to “clear up” his comments on air.
The rumours have led to phone masts used for critical communication being torched and damaged across the UK.
One follower on the group falsely linked the virus to 5G, asking people to sign a petition against the new technology.
The post read: “One of the key 5G locations is the Excel conference centre, which will be the location of the NHS Nightingale COVID-19 hospital, treating up to 4,000 people.
Other wild theories suggest Bill Gates has seized on the pandemic to implement the New World Order, citing a 2015 Ted Talk in which he predicted an unnamed virus could kill up to 33 million people.Ted Talk is real, and saw the Microsoft billionaire warn that the world was not ready to combat a virus similar to the 1918 Spanish flu, he clearly urges governments to invest in research.
“The world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war,” he suggests.
But one post on the Arnica page linked to an article that implied the Covid-19 outbreak was brought about by Gates and financier George Soros in conjunction with China.
Others have speculated that the flu vaccine is contaminated with coronavirus, claiming the virus is being used as a ploy to move to “a police state,” and that a vaccine was patented before the outbreak, suggesting the crisis was planned.
Bogus natural remedies
The group’s anti-vaccination agenda has sparked fears that thousands of Brits could oppose a vaccine for coronavirus when it becomes available – and instead pursue natural ‘remedies’.
In one post, an A&E nurse reveals she refused to get the usual vaccinations for her children and says she was congratulated by her doctor for “doing her research”.
One woman who says she is “having difficulty breathing” is advised by members to take arconite – a potentially deadly poison – “consult a qualified homeopath,” and take vitamins.
A video also suggests you can combat the virus by “using the healing power of your own or your child’s body” and advises against the “suppression of fever”, despite medical advice to bring a fever down with the use of paracetamol.
Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology, says that for any vaccine to be effective against the coronavirus, “critical to its success will be a high uptake rate”.
“While this is a scary time for many, in order to save lives and guard against the worst effects of this virus, we must be guided by the scientific evidence so that we can provide the best protection for our families,” he adds.
“Vaccination is one of the safest ways to protect you and your family against infectious diseases.”
The World Health Organisation has also dismissed natural ‘remedies’ for the virus, including eating garlic and drinking hot water.
Watson tells the Sun Online that she is now declining many posts about the coronavirus.
“We have been seeing much fear and misinformation but we have been trying our best to remain a positive Natural Immunity group,” she said.
“Over the last few weeks we have been deleting dozens of posts every day and this last week we have set to moderate all new main posts.
“You can read this on the pinned announcement. Around 30 are being declined every day, compared to around one a week over the last 10 years.”
Facebook ‘puts lives at risk’
The spreading of false information in the midst of this pandemic is risking lives, warns the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
CEO Imran Ahmed believes it is Facebook’s responsibility to step in.
“There is no excuse for Facebook to allow content or groups promoting demonstrably fake cures or spreading misinformation about vaccines to stay online,” he says.
“Their failure to act puts lives at risk. It is unacceptable that while the whole world is pulling together to overcome this crisis, social media firms continue to put profits before public protection.”
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Facebook told the Sun Online: “We are continuously working to stop harmful misinformation spreading on our platforms.
“This group was already downranked in search and on news feeds, we have also removed content from this group which violated our policies.
“The WHO are providing us with clear guidance on what misinformation in relation to COVID-19 could lead to real-world harm and we are pointing people to the latest official NHS guidance directly from our platforms.
“Our global network of third-party fact-checkers review content linked to COVID-19 and we’re working with governments and health authorities to continue removing harmful misinformation.”
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