Instagram has the account of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. permanently banned, a notorious and prolific peddler of dangerous anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation.
The move will likely be welcomed by public health advocates who have struggled to combat such harmful bunkum online during the devastating pandemic. However, Kennedy’s account on Facebook, which owns Instagram, remained active Thursday, listing more than 300,000 followers.
In an email to Ars, a Facebook spokesperson said Kennedy’s Instagram account had been taken down “for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines.” The account had more than 800,000 followers before it was deleted, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Facebook spokesperson declined to respond to Ars’s question about whether Kennedy’s Facebook account would also be deleted or otherwise sanctioned. However, the social media giant told The New York Times that it has no plans to remove Kennedy from Facebook “at the moment”.
In the email to Ars, the spokesperson noted that Facebook’s updated policy “expands our efforts to remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general during the pandemic” . Facebook says it has already removed “more than 12 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram” that it considers harmful misinformation. The spokesperson also named eight other accounts Facebook had recently removed, including those with URLs /virusesarenotcontagious, /vaxxed2, and /nofacemasks.
However, Kennedy’s contentious relationship with Facebook began well before the pandemic. He and his anti-vaccine organizations — Children’s Health Defense and the World Mercury Project — have been the leading forces behind the disinformation campaigns that fueled the global measles resurgence in recent years.
For example, at the end of 2019, the government of Samoa was forced to shut down to cope with an explosive measles outbreak. The deadly wave of illness came after Kennedy’s organization spent months spreading fears over vaccine safety and spreading falsehoods about an incident that led to the tragic death of two Samoan babies. One study found that the babies were given lethal doses of muscle relaxant from negligent nurses who planned to immunize them. The nurses were each sentenced to five years in prison. Of course, none of that information was shared by Kennedy’s organizations.
Just a month before the outbreak in Samoa, a study in Vaccine magazine found Kennedy’s World Mercury Project to be the largest source of vaccine ads on Facebook.
While Facebook has tried many times to address vaccine misinformation, Kennedy has resisted restrictions and has continued to spread falsehoods. In August 2020, Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense filed a lawsuit alleging that Facebook’s attempt to control vaccine misinformation was “censorship” infringing the organization’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.