Yesterday, the anti-vaccine group the Children’s Health Defense celebrated the spread of poliovirus in New York, mocking health officials spreading awareness that polio is vaccine-preventable. Today, CHD reports that the group was also permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram yesterday. A screenshot of Meta’s notification in its press release says that the ban is due to CHD’s practice of spreading “misinformation that could cause physical harm.”
A Meta spokesperson tells Ars that Meta “removed the Instagram and Facebook accounts in question for repeatedly violating our COVID-19 policies.”
CHD says the ban came “without warning,” cutting the anti-vax group off from hundreds of thousands of followers on both social media platforms. Denying allegations that the group spreads misinformation, CHD suggested instead the ban is connected to CHD’s lawsuit against Meta that questions the validity of how Facebook and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention label health misinformation. The group’s legal counsel in that lawsuit, Roger Teich, suggested that the ban was improper.
“Censorship is not only unconstitutional, it’s un-American,” Teich said in the press release.
CHD founder Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—who, as AP reported, likens getting vaccines to “drinking Kool-Aid”—seemed to suggest that Meta was retaliating against CHD on behalf of the CDC: “Facebook is acting here as a surrogate for the federal government’s crusade to silence all criticism of draconian government policies,” Kennedy said in the press release.
CHD directed Ars to the press release for comments. Teich did not immediately respond to Ars’ requests to comment.
Meta’s move comes after years of tension with CHD over its content. Back in 2019, researchers identified CHD as the single leading source of anti-vax ads on Facebook. It has taken the entire pandemic to get to the point of banning the account.
Meta’s not the only social media platform that has pushed back on CHD’s misinformation. Last year, YouTube banned CHD, among other anti-vax accounts, for claiming the COVID-19 vaccine was ineffective. In 2021, Meta also made headlines when Instagram banned Kennedy’s account “for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines.”
Although CHD said it had no warning, Vice reported that CHD shared in an email newsletter that this week’s permanent ban followed a temporary 30-day ban: “Despite not posting content on Facebook for the past 21 days due to an existing 30-day ban, and constantly self-censoring our content in an attempt to avoid continual shadow-banning and censorship, both pages were abruptly de-platformed. Removing CHD accounts is evidence of a clearly orchestrated attempt to stop the impact we have during a time of heightened criticism of our public health institutions.”
Meta tells Ars that before any ban, Meta uses “a strike system to count violations” so it can hold accountable “those who continue violating” any Meta policies. Accounts are restricted or disabled “based on the number and nature of the strikes it accrues.”