Instagram influencers a gateway to anti-vax conspiracy theories - expert

A conspiracy theory expert and investigative journalist says social media can lead to fake news spiralling "very quickly out of control".

David Farrier, who has been digging into conspiracy theories and the people behind them over the past year on his blog Webworm, says social media is to blame.

"It gets muddy very quickly because everyone has an opinion and suddenly on social media, everyone's opinion is kind of taken at the same value," he told Newshub Nation on Saturday.

"Whether it's a scientist or politician or just someone who's been watching endless YouTube videos."

Celebrity chef Pete Evans has made headlines for repeatedly spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

Evans had his Facebook account deleted in December and Instagram account deleted in February.

The former My Kitchen Rules judge shared a range of false information about the severity of the virus, mask wearing and vaccines.

"We don't allow anyone to share misinformation about COVID-19 that could lead to imminent physical harm or about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts," Facebook said in a statement.

Farrier says health and wellness influencers are especially dangerous in spreading misinformation.

"I think things can spiral very quickly out of control on social media when the wrong people pile in and spread that message," he said.

"I think we've seen a lot of that with the messaging around vaccines - the health and wellness space on Instagram with influencers at the moment is a mess of information and that's just going to get worse and worse."

Pragji later told The Spinoff she deeply regretted sharing the posts.
Pragji later told The Spinoff she deeply regretted sharing the posts. Photo credit: Instagram @shivee_ / TVNZ

Bachelor NZ contestant Shivani Pragji apologised earlier this week for once calling mask wearing "slavery" on her Instagram page.

"To me this is not 'JUST' a mask, this is a loss of freedom and identity," she wrote. "Not to mention the lack of air… wonder what's happened to my lipstick underneath too, time will tell."

Pragji told The Spinoff she deeply regretted sharing the posts and apologised to anyone she may have offended.

"These do not reflect my current views on politics or COVID-19," she said. "My intention at the time was purely to engage in discussion with my peers and to provide a different viewpoint."

Farrier says there is also a danger with community leaders spreading partial information about the virus - including Brian and Hannah Tamaki, leaders of the controversial Destiny Church. Hannah this week said she wouldn't accept a vaccine.

"They definitely have a wider responsibility and there are a lot of people that look up to the Tamakis - well not a lot, but enough to be bothersome," he said.

"And it's the same when you look at someone like Billy TK, the failed politician, and he's still got a Facebook page that's very active and he's pandering these messages to them."