Research finds 12 people responsible for 65 percent of COVID-19 misinformation

Research has found 12 people are responsible for the majority of COVID-19 misinformation globally.

The report, compiled by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), dubbed the 12 online personalities the "Disinformation Dozen" for their anti-vaccination campaigns and conspiracy theories.

By analysing 812,000 Facebook posts and tweets CCDH found 65 percent of the misinformed posts could be traced back to the Disinformation Dozen. On Facebook alone, they are responsible for 73 percent of all anti-vaccination content.

Shockingly, 95 percent of this content was not removed, despite being proven false. 

Among the Dozen are pseudoscience-laden physicians Jospeh Mercola and Christine Northrup, various wellness coaches and bodybuilders, and notably Robert F Kennedy Jr, the nephew of John F Kennedy.

Kennedy Jr has also falsely linked autism to vaccinations and 5G networks to COVID-19.

The 12 contributors have a combined following of 59 million people across their various social media platforms and the CCDH is calling for social media companies to take a stronger stance when it comes to moderating content. 

CCDH chief executive Imran Ahmed says although Facebook, Google and Twitter have put policies forward to slow the spread of misinformation, clearly these have not worked.

"All have been particularly ineffective at removing harmful and dangerous misinformation about coronavirus vaccines."

Ahmed says the Disinformation Dozen should be de-platformed, and quickly before the problem gets any worse.

"With the vast majority of harmful content being spread by a select number of accounts, removing those few most dangerous individuals and groups can significantly reduce the amount of disinformation being spread across platforms."

The issue is prevalent in New Zealand, where one in five people believe in at least three high-profile examples of misinformation about topics including COVID-19, QAnon and even the Christchurch terror attack.

A report by the Chief Censor's Office in June found COVID-19 was the biggest topic, including its origins and whether it even exists. US politics came second, followed by vaccinations, New Zealand politics, conspiracy theories and climate/environment issues. Over half of Kiwis said they've come across misinformation in the last six months, and nearly a quarter finding it weekly. 

Promisingly, the survey also found more than four in five Kiwis think misinformation is a threat to New Zealand, and more needs to be done to stop it.