Here is a transcript of Fran Kelly and Ariel Bogle discussing ‘anti-vaccination’ on Radio National, Thursday 7 March 2019:

Some Australians have taken it upon themselves to combat the messages of the anti-vaccination community on facebook, where it still thrives:

Fran Kelly: This week a Danish study refuted again the notion that the MMR vaccination, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, has no association with an increased risk of autism. But misinformation about vaccines of all types continues to thrive on social media. Some Australians have taken it upon themselves to combat these messages of the anti-vaccination community on facebook. Ariel Bogle is a technology reporter with the ABC Science Unit, and our regular tech-head, hi Ariel.

Ariel Bogle: Morning Fran.

Fran Kelly: So you’ve spent some time talking to these volunteers who fight vaccine misinformation on facebook. Why do they do it, and is it working, does it work for them?

Ariel Bogle: Well I think these people in general feel a passion, they want to protect children and they find the messages of the anti-vaccination community anti-science and dangerous. But there are a few different tactics out there. I spoke to one guy associated with a page called Refutations to Anti-vaccination Memes. And memes are of course those little images you see all over the internet, with images and jokes. And so this page is just full of jokes about vaccination, sometimes on the verge, you know, on the verge of brutal about the anti-vaccination movement. And he told me the goal is really to make fun of the anti-vax leaders, who he says profits from these types of messages, and to marginalise them, make it unpopular and laughable to be anti-vaccination for children. Another group, is called the Stop the Anti, Stop the Australian Anti-vaccination Network, is more around a group of doctors trying to lobby against allowing some of these key anti-vaccination groups to thrive in Australia. They lobby against when anti-vax leaders come and try to tour Australia, these types of actions.

Fran Kelly: Let’s hear from one of the more infamous anti-vaxxers, Sherri Tenpenny, her videos get millions of views on facebook.

Sherri Tenpenny: So it’s aluminium and chemicals in all these vaccines, antigens, all these viruses and bacteria, stray viruses that are known to cause cancer, you know all kinds of gobbledygook inside of these things. And I think that most parents, and even most physicians, who’ve never bothered to read a package insert in their life, think that all that is in there is a little bit of sterile water, a little bit of attenuated or killed virus, that’s it, how can it hurt you?

Fran Kelly: That’s anti-vaxxer Sherri Tenpenny on facebook. And that’s the sort of thing that gets people upset, and many experts point to facebook and YouTube as key culprits in the spread of this health misinformation. Are these platforms doing anything about this, do they see they have a role in this?

Ariel Bogle: Well of course fears around vaccination are not new to the world, but the internet has seemed to inflame them, those algorithms on YouTube and facebook that, you know, addicted to controversy, addicted to things where people get upset and have fears, they really thrive off that. And they are taking action to an extent. But I found on facebook, even last week, that facebook was still accepting paid ads from some of the key anti-vaccination groups in Australia. Facebook says they know they need to do more, they have more work to do, and that they plan to announce a new actions. But other platforms are taking action. So YouTube for example has removed advertising from anti-vaccination pages so they can’t make money from advertising on some of those popular videos. And Pinterest interestingly, Pinterest is a social media network where you post, you know, images you like and recipes and things like that, they have cracked down on search around vaccination. So if you go onto Pinterest and search for vaccination or some other key terms there, they won’t return results for good or ill, and that’s their tactic.

Fran Kelly: Ok. What’s the best way to push back against these fears of vaccination?

Ariel Bogle: When you talk to doctors, and I did for my story today, it’s in person. These types of messages really are best countered in direct personal relationships between nurses and doctors and parents, because it’s not invalid to have questions and fears, but those fears can be addressed. And while there are plenty of people, volunteers on facebook, doing the work that maybe facebook should be doing to counter these messages there, I think that in some cases they maybe just talking to the already convinced, talking to people in their own bubble. And sometimes those interactions with anti-vaxxers can be antagonistic. And that might just feed into the persecution complex, or the conspiracy theory complex of these people.

Fran Kelly: As you say, all those mocking memes.