Coronavirus in the UK: New BBC Panorama research reveals rise in anti-vaccine propaganda accounts on social media

An investigation for the BBC’s Panorama has revealed an alarming increase in the followers of anti-vaccine accounts on social media – and the impact of the content being shared.

Research for the programme, which airs on BBC One at 7.35pm tonight (Monday, February 15), analysed anti-vaccine content available on the major social media platforms.

It found that anti-vaccine accounts on Instagram increased nearly five-fold in 2020, reaching over four million followers.

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“Naturally we didn’t have the time maybe to do the sort of preliminary work that we do when we’re introducing vaccines,” said Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England.

“I think it's fair to say that we didn’t have time to do all those things as well as we would normally do but we’re very much playing catch up now.”

It comes at a time when more people are seeking health information online.

Facebook – which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram – said it continues to step up its enforcement policies against harmful misinformation and actively points people towards responsible information. Twitter said that it is prioritising the removal of Covid-19 content that could potentially cause harm.

Panorama also investigated a video called ‘Ask the Experts’ after being contacted by 83 year old Rosemary Lowe from Norwich.

With millions now vaccinated, Panorama investigates the scare tactics of anti-vaxxers.With millions now vaccinated, Panorama investigates the scare tactics of anti-vaxxers.
With millions now vaccinated, Panorama investigates the scare tactics of anti-vaxxers.

She told the programme: “I felt a bit sick when I looked at it and felt a knot in my stomach. I thought this is horrible and I just don’t know whether it is true or not.”

The video, produced by Oracle Film, introduces thirty-three people, some with medical and scientific titles based in the UK, US, Spain and Sweden. They appear one after another, speaking directly to the camera over the course of 27 minutes.

Some allege, contrary to scientific evidence, that the vaccines are unsafe, that they can alter a person's DNA and that the pandemic is 'not real'.

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Despite being removed from YouTube and Twitter, it’s claimed the video has already been viewed more than 250,000 times and is still being shared on Whatsapp.

Watch BBC Panorama Vaccines: The Disinformation War, BBC One, Monday 15 Feb, 7:35pm

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