KEY POINTS

  • Some of the influencers were part of a group responsible for 65% of vaccine misinformation on Facebook and Twitter
  • One of the vaccine influencers was Robert Kennedy Jr.
  • Instagram has said it will remove access to the link sticker feature from accounts violating its Community Guidelines

Right-wing and anti-vaccine influencers could be earning money from spreading false information about COVID-19 shots on Instagram, a new report has found.

In October 2021, Instagram introduced a new feature, the “link sticker,” that allows the platform’s users to include clickable links on their Instagram Stories to bring their followers to an external website. 

Many anti-vaccine influencers have now used the feature to monetize their vaccine misinformation, organize anti-vaxxer events and lead their followers to platforms such as Gettr, Clouthub and Telegram where they promote more extreme content, according to the report from watchdog group Media Matters for America. 

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician and prominent anti-vaccine advocate, used the link sticker feature to promote supplements among her followers. Tenpenny continues to have access to her Instagram account despite being banned from the platform several times for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

Tenpenny is also a member of the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group of people that constantly promotes vaccine misinformation. The group was found to be the source of at least 65% of false news about COVID-19 vaccines on Facebook and Twitter between Feb. 1 and March 16, 2021, an analysis by CounterHate found.

Robert Kennedy Jr., a fellow Disinformation Dozen member, also used link stickers to promote his bestselling anti-vaccine book on Amazon, “The Real Anthony Fauci.” His personal Instagram account was banned last February for speaking out against vaccines.

"We removed this account for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines," a spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement to CNN.

Despite the ban, Kennedy Jr. was able to access the RFK Jr Podcast Instagram account to promote his book, which accuses White House chief medical advisor Fauci of being part of a "historic coup d'etat against Western democracy.”

Aubrey Huff, a former professional baseball player who became a right-wing influencer, also used the link sticker to promote anti-vaccine T-shirts and an array of sexist and transphobic merchandise. 

Instagram has said it is committed to removing access to the link sticker feature from accounts that violate its Community Guidelines, including people who share hate speech and misinformation.

instagram-1789189_1920 Representation. The woman's video, which was uploaded to TikTok, has since been viewed nearly 280,000 times. Photo: Pixabay