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Facebook has finally taken action against one of the biggest spreaders of anti-vax content who’s profited from sharing disinformation targeting Bill Gates’ role in the COVID-19 vaccines and the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment.
On Thursday evening, Facebook banned the account of Erin Elizabeth, who runs a prominent alternative health site called “Health Nut News.” Last month, she was named as one of the “disinformation dozen” in a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The center’s research found that those 12 individuals are responsible for sharing 65% of all anti-vax content on Facebook. Elizabeth is also known for sharing antisemitic content and has been linked to an affiliate marketing program where she earns money for promoting disinformation videos.
“ALL my Facebook pages and groups and even my personal page totaling millions. All my Instagram pages including my public page. No violations. Everything gone,” Elizabeth tweeted on Thursday night.
In a subsequent post on Telegram, Elizabeth told her followers that in addition to her personal and professional pages on Facebook and Instagram, Facebook had removed 16 groups. In total, Elizabeth estimated the banned pages and accounts had over 3 million followers.
“Even my aunt who is my assistant. They took her page!!!!!!!” she added on Twitter.
But Facebook’s actions didn’t extend to Elizabeth’s partner, Dr. Joseph Mercola, a major funder of the anti-vax movement who has made millions from selling alternative health supplements online.
Mercola is also one of the “disinformation dozen” but as of Friday morning his verified Facebook account with 1.7 million followers and his Instagram account were both still active.
In recent days, Elizabeth has also been linked to a online network that’s cashing in on vaccine disinformation.
An AP investigation this week revealed that Charlene and Ty Bollinger—who are also listed among the “disinformation dozen”—have been making huge profits from selling anti-vax disinformation videos.
Part of their scheme was to pay affiliates, including renowned anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr., to promote the videos to their online followings in exchange for.a cut of the profits. An archived version of a site tracking the success of the affiliate marketers shows that Elizabeth was one of the top earners.
According to the Center for Counting Digital Hate report, Elizabeth had been sharing typical anti-vax disinformation, such as erroneously linking the COVID-19 vaccine to Microsoft founder Bill Gates or claiming it was all part of a conspiracy involving Big Pharma. She also shared misinformation boosting the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine.
But that’s not all. Elizabeth also shared some antisemitic content.
Facebook did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment about the takedown but a source at the company who was not authorized to speak on the record said that the accounts were not banned because of the disinformation being shared.
The accounts were taken down because of the “spammy and inauthentic behavior they relied on to build their audience. They misled people about the popularity of their posts and used fake accounts to spam people and evade our enforcement,” the source said.
At the time accounts of the “disinformation dozen reporting,” 10 of the 12 accounts remained active. When questioned about this in Congress, Facebook’s head of global policy, Monica Bickert, said that the company had “assessed that content and removed those accounts that were violating.”
But it appears something has changed since Bickert gave evidence to Congress in April.
Elizabeth is now promoting her Telegram channel, which has 31,000 followers.
In a voice message posted to her Telegram channel Thursday night, she bemoaned the takedowns and claimed she had never done anything wrong.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do to keep it afloat, but we’ll figure it out,” Elizabeth said.