A new COVID-19 disinformation campaign is discouraging people from getting vaccinated by using transphobic memes to ridicule transgender men and women.
The new campaign is centered around the word “transvaxxite,” an effort to appropriate gender-identity language to promote resistance to taking the vaccine. The trend has also seen anti-vaxxers post videos mocking those posted by trans people speaking openly about their decisions to come out.
The “transvaxxite” term has been floating around the fringes of the internet for a few months, but in the last week it has gained traction on mainstream platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, where it’s being pushed primarily by right-wing personalities, conservative news outlets, and Republican Congressional candidates.
On Facebook in the last three days, the term has been shared hundreds of times in public posts, gaining over 15,000 interactions, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool. However, it’s also being shared in memes which are harder to track.
The use of the term is often accompanied by the following text: “I've decided that I'm a transvaxxite. This means that I identify as vaccinated, but in reality, I have not taken the jab. Vaccination is a spectrum and you are a bigot if you don't accept me for who I am.”
The term has been shared by pro-Trump portals like the Happy Hayride page, which has 140,000 followers, and Conservative Daily. Both pages have shared versions of the meme alongside comments discouraging followers from getting the vaccine, such as “Are you a transvaxxite?”
Right-wing talk show host Steve Deace, who has a verified Facebook page with 124,000 followers, shared a screenshot of the entry from crowdsourced slang website Urban Dictionary earlier this week. The post has garnered at least 4,300 reactions and 872 shares.
Another person who shared a “transvaxxite” meme is Jarome Bell, a Navy veteran who last year unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for a seat in the House of Representatives in Virginia.
Facebook told VICE News’ the term did not violate its content policies. However, many of the posts mentioning the term have been labeled with disclaimers that direct users to the platform’s COVID-19 Information Center.
On Instagram, a search for the hashtag #transvaxxite returned hundreds of posts, including one video that has over 13,000 views. The vast majority of the posts found using the hashtag have been posted in the last week, indicating that the term is picking up popularity on Instagram, which has been one of the main vectors of COVID-19 disinformation.
Instagram did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment, and none of the posts using the “transvaxxite” hashtag have been labeled.
On Twitter the most popular post using the term “transvaxxite” was posted by Willie Montague, who lost the Repubican primary in Florida’s 10th Congressional District last year.
His tweet has been shared over 500 times and liked 1,500 times.
Twitter told VICE News that the term “transvaxxite” does not violate its content policies.
Early instances of the term appeared on Urban Dictionary back in late March and it was being shared in QAnon channels on the messaging platform Telegram in April. But in the last week the term has begun gaining popularity in mainstream platforms, as those opposed to the vaccine continue to find new ways to spread disinformation about COVID-19.
“The narrative appears to be gaining traction on mainstream platforms, demonstrating how dubious narratives start and spread within fringe platforms before reaching wider audiences,” Lydia Morrish, a journalist with fact-checking group First Draft wrote in a newsletter Thursday. “The sharing of the term includes both anti-vaccine messaging and anti-trans messages.”