‘Died suddenly’ posts twist tragedies to push vaccine lies

‘Died suddenly’ posts twist tragedies to push vaccine lies

Introduction

Online anti-vaccine activists are spreading misinformation and pushing false narratives by falsely blaming COVID-19 vaccines for unexpected deaths and injuries. These activists are using social media platforms to exploit tragedies and manipulate grieving families, causing harm beyond the internet.

Blaming the COVID-19 Vaccine

After the funeral of 6-year-old Anastasia Weaver, online anti-vaccine activists wasted no time baselessly blaming the COVID-19 vaccine for her death. Despite the fact that Anastasia had lifelong health problems, including epilepsy, asthma, and frequent hospitalizations, conspiracy theorists quickly added her to a growing list of individuals falsely attributed to vaccine-related deaths.

The use of the hashtag #diedsuddenly has surged over 740% in tweets about vaccines in the past two months. This surge began with the release of an online “documentary” titled “Died Suddenly.” This documentary aggregates incidents of unexpected deaths and injuries, giving credibility to the false claims made by conspiracy theorists.

The Power of In-Group Language

The phrase “died suddenly” has become a kind of in-group language among online conspiracy theorists. By assigning a hashtag to it, they can aggregate all incidents they claim are vaccine-related in one place. This language serves as a wink wink, nudge nudge tactic to disseminate false information and manipulate public opinion.

Renee DiResta, the technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, explains that these conspiracy theorists take a relatively routine way of describing unexpected deaths and distort it for their own agenda.

The Real-World Impact

The dangers of these false narratives extend beyond the internet. Epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina warns that this misinformation can lead to real-world actions, such as vaccine hesitancy. It is crucial to combat these lies with rigorous studies and real-world evidence that prove the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

It is important to note that deaths caused by vaccination are extremely rare, and the risks associated with not getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks of vaccination.

The ‘Died Suddenly’ Film

The “Died Suddenly” film, which serves as a catalyst for these false narratives, has gained significant attention online. With over 20 million views on an alternative video sharing website, the film perpetuates the false notion that sudden deaths have increased due to COVID-19 vaccines.

An analysis of more than 100 tweets from the film’s Twitter account found that claims about vaccine-related deaths were largely unsubstantiated and contradicted by public information. The filmmakers did not respond to specific questions but issued a statement referring to a surge in sudden deaths without providing any data.

Exploiting Tragedies

Some tragedies featured in the film predate the pandemic, further highlighting the disingenuous nature of the narrative. For example, the film used the story of a California writer grieving for her son who died in a car crash in 2017, falsely portraying his death as vaccine-related.

Survivors who have been misrepresented in the film also face the consequences of online disinformation. Brazilian TV presenter Rafael Silva, who collapsed on air due to a congenital heart abnormality, has been subjected to harassment and even death threats due to false claims made about his medical emergency and the vaccine.

False Claims and Misinformation

Many of the posts online that falsely attribute deaths to the vaccine provide no evidence other than the fact that the person had been vaccinated at some point in the past. This post hoc fallacy assumes causation simply because the vaccination preceded the death.

Some claims also exploit the rare cases of heart inflammation issues, such as myocarditis or pericarditis, that can occur after COVID-19 vaccination, particularly in young men. However, medical experts emphasize that these cases are typically mild, and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

Leveraging High-Profile Moments

The false narrative surrounding vaccine-related deaths also leverages high-profile incidents to further their agenda. For instance, the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during a game was falsely attributed to the vaccine, despite sudden cardiac arrest being a prominent cause of death in the US.

Medical experts agree that the vaccine did not cause Hamlin’s injury, but the false claims persist and spread through social media.

The Impact on Families

For families who have lost loved ones, the misinformation represents a sideshow to their real focus: understanding the true cause of death and preventing similar tragedies. Clint Erickson, whose son Tyler died unexpectedly while golfing, emphasizes the importance of finding closure and answers rather than being used in a false narrative.

Jessica Day-Weaver, the mother of Anastasia Weaver, expresses her dismay at people exploiting her daughter’s death without knowing anything about her. She highlights the pain of losing a child and wishes it upon no one, even those spreading falsehoods.

Conclusion

The spread of false narratives attributing unexpected deaths and injuries to COVID-19 vaccines is a dangerous phenomenon. It is essential to rely on rigorous scientific research and real-world evidence to counteract these falsehoods and ensure that the public receives accurate information about vaccine safety and efficacy. The impact on grieving families and the potential consequences of vaccine hesitancy highlight the urgency of combating misinformation and promoting evidence-based knowledge.