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From the file

Infodemic II | We want to find out who has been peddling medical misinformation in the midst of a global pandemic.

Super-spreader-in-chief

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Robert Kennedy Jr’s anti-vaxx conspiracy theories are being shut down at last – but only up to a point


Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the prominent American anti-vaxx campaigner who has used his large social media following to spread medical misinformation in the pandemic, has been banned by Instagram for sharing false claims about Covid-19. 

A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said the account was removed “for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines”. His account on Facebook remains active. 

Kennedy, son of the former US attorney general Bobby Kennedy who was assassinated in 1968, worked for many years as a respected environmental lawyer taking on big corporations. But around 2005 his focus shifted to vaccine scepticism, falsely linking a number of conditions to vaccinations. 

Like other conspiracy theorists, he has gained popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic by adapting his anti-vaccine messages to fit the crisis, publishing false allegations against Microsoft founder Bill Gates and about the safety of 5G telecoms networks. A Tortoise investigation published last year found Kennedy Jr was one of an elite group of ‘super-spreaders’ of misinformation on social media, with his posts achieving greater impact and engagement than anyone else’s. 

In a rare interview, Kennedy accused Facebook and Instagram of censoring him. He attacked the fact-checking platforms that have found many of his posts to be untrue, claiming that they act to protect the interests of big pharma. He was resolute in his position that he was protecting public health. “Does it trouble me that people are angry at me? No, it does not. That’s what I signed on for,” he told Tortoise.

Speaking in August, Kennedy framed his anti-vaxx campaign as part of his decades-long fight against big corporations. “Of course I have people that don’t like me. I’m used to that when I was an environmentalist, which I still am. Throughout my whole career people have been angry at me,” he said. “I’m suing the pharmaceutical industry. I’m suing all the big vaccine makers. I’m suing FCC [Federal Communications Commission] on 5G and these products that are injuring people, and they all do this and then they create phoney science. They take advertising and the press and they compromise journalists like yourself and, you know, they get people on their side.”