Facebook announced Tuesday that it has removed advertisements paid for by Larry Cook—a prominent anti-vaxxer who targeted Washington-area women in ads during a measles outbreak—because the posts violated the social network’s policies.
“These ads were taken down in conjunction with our recently announced efforts to tackle vaccine misinformation on Facebook,” Devon Kearns, who works in policy communications at Facebook, told The Daily Beast. “Several of these ads contained verifiable hoaxes identified by leading global health organizations like the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and were removed.”
Some of the ads included links to stories about children who died hours after receiving vaccines. Others touted natural immunity—becoming immune to a disease or virus by getting infected by it—as a “superior” method of protecting children from sickness.
“Are you concerned about vaccines? What about MANDATORY VACCINATION, like what's being proposed in WA State and other states? Should our children REALLY be force vaccinated?” one of the removed ads read. “Read this tragic story and then join our group Stop Mandatory Vaccination if you want truthful answers that your pediatrician and mainstream media will never tell you.”
According to Facebook’s ad archive, Cook spent a total of $5,302 on 54 advertisements on the platform between May 2018 and March 9, 2019.
“I find it unfortunate that the voices of millions of parents who witnessed their children be injured or die after vaccination are now being silenced on platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon and more and that mainstream media and United States legislators are actively engaged in calling for the censorship of their voices, including our ability to reach parents with this vital information through sponsored Facebook posts,” Cook said in a statement.
Cook, who has amassed a massive following on his “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” Facebook group, managed to rake in around $80,000 in GoFundMe donations over the past few years to fund Facebook ad campaigns and other anti-vax efforts. Some of the donated funds may have been used to pay Cook’s “personal bills,” according to the group’s website.
Two of the ads Facebook has removed pushed users to buy anti-vax books and documentaries from Amazon before the platform removed them from the site. The ads also contained Amazon affiliate links, allowing Cook to make money off of supporters’ purchases.
Last week, Facebook announced that it would take stronger action against anti-vaccine misinformation on the platform—including rejecting ads that are not factual, disabling ad accounts that repeatedly violate its policies, and removing vaccine disinformation groups from the network’s search feature. According to The Guardian, these new guidelines would also extend to Instagram.
“Leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes,” Monika Bickert, vice president of global policy management, wrote in the blog post. “If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 200 cases of measles, which is highly contagious, have been identified nationwide in the first two months of 2019, putting the U.S. on pace to beat the previous all-time high of 667 cases in the entirety of 2014.
“Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States,” the CDC wrote on its vaccine-advisory page.“Since then, widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases compared with the pre-vaccine era.”