If you’ve been reading this you know that I started a “Cause” on Facebook last week called the Anti-Anti-Vaccine Campaign. I had no idea what I was doing, but I’d seen Causes on Facebook, had a thought and acted on it. It’s been an interesting experience. I’ve dipped my toe into a highly charged pond and have gotten my first glimpse into how it works. It’s very early days but I’m starting to develop some ideas about the concept behind what I’ve started and why I think it could be very powerful.
I’ve had the idea that it would be great to be a “skeptical activist” since attending TAMOZ (The Amazing Meeting – Australia) last year. TAMOZ was a gathering of people who identify as skeptics. We heard a lot of speakers talking about a lot of issues. Some of those issues included taking action against scams and frauds in the interests of protecting the public interest. Some Australian skeptic groups were having significant success.
One of those groups was Stop the A.V.N. This is what they’re up to.
Our campaign called “Stop the AVN” or SAVN, was begun after its President Meryl Dorey harassed the grieving parents of baby Dana McCaffery, who had died of Whopping Cough. Our campaign works mainly in 2 ways:
1. Whenever she appears in the media we lodge protests, drawing attention to her lies about vaccines. Before we began she was the go-to person to talk on vaccines. After our campaign her lunacy has been exposed and they don’t call on her. We call that a victory.
2. We report any legal infringement that we detect to the relevant authorities. You would be surprised how much legislation applies to incorporated organisations and charities. We have prevented the AVN obtaining tax-deductibility, and initiated Govt investigations. We have had our setbacks but we keep going. We have members of parliament on side, so it is a matter of time before they are put out of business. Also later this year new legislation is being introduced to change the definition of a “charity” and that will pull the rug out from under them. (The definition in our law has not changed since it was laid down by Queen Elizabeth I in 1601.)
They’ve had quite a bit of success making things difficult for Meryl Dorey and the AVN. There are other groups of activists that take on anti-vaccine propagandist and argue the scientific case in public forums and on the internet. But it occurred to me that there might be another approach that, so far as I knew, no one was attempting in any organised way.
Facebook is an interesting kind of social media platform. It has a population approaching 1 billion, but primarily what anyone sees is messages from a select group of friends on their newsfeed. Groups of friends may include a few people, hundreds or even thousands, but those “friends” are the source of of the stuff that we all see on our monitor. What appears in a newsfeed covers a wide spectrum of material, from jokes to pictures of friends’ lunches. Most is almost instantaneously forgotten, but it gets eyeball time just the same from anyone who deigns to look at it. (I have numerous friends who won’t go near Facebook – perhaps a wise decision). In the newsfeed for most people will be an occasional political message, news of a health scare (real or imaginary), some conspiracy thinking and once in a while an anti-vaccine link or rant. That’s all part of the daily diet in the Facebook world.
It occurred to me that every time someone posts an anti-vax message it’s seen by everyone in their friends list (if they’re looking). It will be ignored by most but a few might like it and some of those might share it. Each of those likes and shares will put the link in front of more people. And the same thing may happen at the next step, and the next step, and the next step. One post can potentially reach thousands of people. Usually not, but sometimes it will. Along the way thousands of eyeballs will have viewed the message. Most will ignore it, but for some an extra seed of doubt will have been sown.
The anti-vax crazies are people who will keep droning on about vaccines and how bad they are no matter what. They cannot be persuaded and no one will ever shut them up, try as they might. Most of the opposition to the anti-vaxers has concentrated on those people. I’m interested in concentrating on whoever it is that posts something in my own personal newsfeed. I can deal with them, and while I support the work of Stop the AVN, I don’t want to deal with Meryl Dorey. I’ve found that the people who show up on my newsfeed aren’t crazies, they aren’t the fanatics. They may be opposed to vaccines, but it’s not their reason for being. I will put up some arguments against the points they are making, point them to research, challenge them to back up what they seem to be saying. I don’t have days worth of argument, but any time an anti-vax post appears, I challenge it. And I let them know that this will always happen and openly encourage them to stop these posts.
So far it’s worked. I unfriended one person who got rude and unpleasant (I make sure I’m not and I won’t put up with it on my newsfeed), but I know lots of people who know that person. No one has liked or shared one of her anti-vax posts that I’ve spotted. So I lived (until a couple of weeks ago) in an anti-vax free world.
I think if lots of people took this on as a practice it would make a big difference to the vaccination conversation on Facebook. At least I think it’s worth a try.