Facebook videos were short but disturbing. One, posted on the profile of Indiana resident Shawn Skelton, shows it quivering on what looks like a hospital bed, an exhausted look on his face. In another, Skelton spends over a minute sticking her tongue out as she twists strangely. Three other videos – all only a few seconds long – were posted by Louisiana-based Brant Griner and show his mother Angelia Gipson Desselle shaking violently and struggling to walk into a dimly lit hospital room.
The videos all made the same claims: Skelton and Desselle had been vaccinated for Covid-19 shortly before they developed their tremors, and the vaccine, they said, was to blame. There is no evidence that this is the case. But, on Facebook, the truth rarely matters. For days, the videos ran unchecked, racking up millions of views and tens of thousands of comments. Contextless and, even now, difficult to verify, their spread is the latest salute in the fight to demystify vaccine misinformation and misinformation. To date the videos have been shared by Facebook groups that push natural and alternative medicine, anti-vaxxers, 5G conspiracy theorists and by the far right.
According to CrowdTangle, a news tool owned and operated by Facebook, Skelton’s first video, posted on January 7, was viewed by more than 4.4 million people as of January 19. On Twitter, the video was shared 10,300 times, garnering 1.4 million views, according to social media reporter Lydia Morrish First try.
CrowdTangle data shows that one of Griner’s videos, first posted on January 10, has been viewed over 5.2 million times. Although some commentators were skeptical, most of the comments left under the videos were from people who appeared to be concerned about the suspected effects of the vaccine; some have touted the benefits of faith healing, others have shared conspiracy theories of big drug companies and peddled products that they believe could help women recover. One speaker expressed hope that doctors will find a cure for the vaccine.
As the videos took Facebook by storm, they started seeping outward, appearing on WhatsApp groups and the Telegram messaging app. Here, they bounced from channel to channel, cutting through the far-right and neighboring QAnon groups that flourished on the platform in the weeks following the Capitol Hill insurgency. A version of the Desselle video broadcast on Telegram has been viewed over 100,000 times. The unwanted news and alternative media featured stories about Skelton and Desselle, and the latter’s story was reported in a segment on RT, an information network controlled by the Russian state.
The videos’ sheer shock value may have made their spread understandable, but also dangerous in the midst of a pandemic, and at the very start of an already struggling public health campaign. unprecedented levels of vaccine hesitancy In some countries. Especially when few of the statements made in the videos can be verified.
Skelton, a nursing home worker in Oakland City, Indiana, claims she received the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on January 4. The tremors, she said in a January 13 Facebook Live – where she contorted on a bench wearing a jumper pink – began three days later. Skelton did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The care home where she works did not respond to multiple emails asking if Skelton had indeed received the vaccine.
Skelton herself posted a photo of what appeared to be a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination card to her Facebook profile on January 16. But the batch of vaccine given to him according to the card does not appear to have been linked to any reports of an adverse vaccine reaction in Indiana, according to VAERS, the notification system managed by the CDC and the Food and Drugs Administration. In fact, the eight cases of adverse reactions to any Covid-19 vaccine reported in Indiana since the start of 2021 have involved people over the age of 60 – Skelton, according to his vaccination record, is in his 40s. Anyone can report side effects to VAERS, including the vaccinees themselves, but physicians and practitioners are strongly encouraged to do so when they experience what appears to be a side effect.