Anti-Vaxxers Harassing Moms Whose Babies Died, So That's TERRIFIC!
CNN is out today with a story on members of the anti-vaccination/pro-disease movement who have found a delightful new way to win converts to their side in the war on science: find parents (mothers, generally) who have recently lost a child to a preventable disease, and then harass them on social media, because after all, good people refuse vaccines and anyone who advocates for vaccines must be burned to the ground. As your lawyer (we are not a lawyer), we advise you to secure any hurlable heavy objects near you before reading.
Grieving moms who have dared to suggest that low vaccination rates are unhealthy for babies have been the on the receiving end of some very thoughtful scientific debating points from the anti-vaxxer mob.
When a child dies, members of the group sometimes encourage each other to go on that parent's Facebook page. The anti-vaxers then post messages telling the parents they're lying and their child never existed, or that the parent murdered them, or that vaccines killed the child, or some combination of all of those.
Nothing is considered too cruel. Just days after their children died, mothers say anti-vaxers on social media called them whores, the c-word and baby killers.
Consider the example of Jill Promoli, who lives near Toronto. Three years ago, her two-year-old, Jude McGee, died after being infected with flu. Promoli has since become an advocate for flu prevention and getting flu shots. In return, she's heard from some very fine people who simply wanted to educate her:
Some anti-vaxers told her she'd murdered Jude and made up a story about the flu to cover up her crime. Others said vaccines had killed her son. Some called her the c-word.
The worst ones -- the ones that would sometimes make her cry -- were the posts that said she was advocating for flu shots so that other children would die from the shots and their parents would be miserable like she was.
"The first time it made me feel really sick because I couldn't fathom how anybody could even come up with such a terrible claim," Promoli said. "It caught me off guard in its cruelty. What kind of a person does this?"
On the other hand, why else would she advocate for people to get flu shots? Clearly, she's the deranged one. The anti-vaxxers must figure these parents don't have enough grief, so why not give them more?
And yet Promoli persists in advocating for people to vaccinate their kids like some sort of non-stopping science person, and recently encouraged Justin Trudeau to publicize his own annual flu shot. He mentioned her campaign in his tweet, even:
Needless to say, there were anti-vax idiots in the replies, but also a teacher who said they make a point of getting their flu shot in front of their grade school class "so they know there's nothing to be afraid of" and one Trudeau fan who complained, "you didn't even have to take your shirt off?"
CNN made a point of talking to leaders of a couple of anti-vaccine groups, and you may be astonished to learn that they seemed remarkably unconcerned by the online behavior of some of their more extreme adherents. One, Larry Cook, founder of "Stop Mandatory Vaccination," insisted that of course there'll be some bad apples, but his membership is very active online, and only a tiny fraction of them bother parents whose children have died. He said he definitely doesn't "condone violent behavior or tone" and that he "encourage[s] decorum" during discussion online, but added that anyone advocating for mandatory vaccination is, after all, a death merchant who shouldn't be surprised if people object to their death merchanting:
Anyone "who deliberately engage[s] in the politics of advocating for compulsory vaccination where children may be further damaged through government vaccine mandates can expect push back and resistance, alongside knowledgable discussions about vaccine risk in social media commentary."
Oh, yes, and we should probably note he's lying about children being damaged by vaccines. That's bullshit and fearmongering. He adds that his members get harassed and called names (like bullshitters and fearmongers), and he got a death threat too, so really, who's being violent?
Del Bigtree, another leader of an anti-vax group, said he believes none of his supporters would harass a grieving parent, blaming "infiltrators" who were out to "create incendiary situations." Bigtree's name came up in another context later in the article, too, in a Facebook message sent to Dr. Richard Pan, the California pediatrician who helped push the state in 2015 to end all but medical exemptions from the state's vaccination mandate:
There's a video out there of Pan not wanting to talk to Bigtree, which proves science is fake and doctors are Nazi genociders of babies.
In addition to several more parents who are still being harassed by anti-vaxxers years after their children died (but they asked for it because they advocate for vaccinations), CNN also talked to Erin Costello, who uses throwaway sockpuppet accounts to pose as an anti-vaxxer and join their private Facebook groups, where Costello has seen some very knowledgable discussions about vaccine risk as well as some strategizing for "pushback" against those awful grieving parents who advocate for vaccination. One member of Stop Mandatory Vaccination suggested others go visit a mom who'd posted about her baby having seizures after getting vaccinated (it's a very rare side when flu vaccine is given at the same time as two other vaccines, according to the CDC -- about 30 in 100,000 vaccinations). Hey, excellent chance to scare that mom into the anti-vax camp!
The anti-vaxer urged others in the group to "comment for her to read! I want to win this mom over and she really trusts her pediatrician but at the same time she is scared!"
As it happens, Costello also saw another member of the same group calling attention to one of the mothers CNN profiled, who had provoked the flying monkeys by calling on other parents to vaccinate:
"Anyone want to chime in on this post?" the anti-vaxer wrote.
Another member responded, "I feel sorry for the lost baby and her other children but someone needs to inject her with vaccines until she dies."
They seem nice!
Fortunately, Facebook is doing its very best to address the harassment, which is to say it is doing pretty much nothing, because it believes in empowering its users:
A Facebook spokesperson responded to these concerns:
"We try to empower our users with controls, such as blocking other users and moderating comments, so they can limit their exposure to unwanted, offensive or hurtful content. We also encourage people to report bullying behavior on our platform, so we can review the content and take proper action," the spokesperson wrote in an email.
Good luck, parents whose kids died! Remember, the mob "cares about" children too, so maybe you should be a bit more open-minded, huh? If your child even existed in the first place.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.