A recent and dangerous fake news story, which claims the CDC flu vaccine is itself causing the flu outbreak, is taking Facebook by storm, silently and erroneously validating the fears of anti-vaxxers everywhere.
If you think we're over exaggerating, consider this: The fake news story has already been shared 691 thousand times.
A report from NewsWhip this week found the flu vaccine story, published by YourNewsWire, was one of the top four stories with the most engagement on Facebook this month.
"It is mildly alarming that several of the top stories in June 2017 and this month came from YourNewsWire, a notorious fake news site," the report reads.
While that may be the greatest understatement of the year, it is nonetheless true.
In the past, YourNewsWire has been called "Breitbart for liberals," and their stories are almost entirely based on rumours, conspiracy theories and unnamed and unverified sources.
The flu story itself was written by an unnamed "CDC doctor," who claimed the flu vaccine was "causing [the] deadly flu outbreak," during the worst flu season since the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
This is what we call a recipe for disaster, with the ridiculous and unverified story generating more overall engagement than any story from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, CNN, NPR or even Fox News.
"Some of the patients I've administered the flu shot to this year have died," the unnamed doctor from the story said, adding "I don't care who you are, this scares the crap out of me."
"We have seen people dying across the country of the flu, and one thing nearly all of them have in common is they got the flu shot."
The story also reports that out of eight patients who died from the flu in Santa Barbara County, seven of them had received the flu shot.
But according to a report from Snopes, there is no evidence any "CDC doctor" exclusively spoke to YourNewsWire, just as there is no evidence that the 7 victims in Santa Barbara died because of their flu shots.
Plus, with just two seconds of fact-checking you can see the CDC website literally says the exact opposite thing.
The government website explicitly states:
"No, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been 'inactivated' and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all."
The website explains that if you get flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine, these are merely side effects associated with the vaccine. They are not the flu and they are "mild and short-lasting."
Now is a good time to remind everyone that Facebook absolutely has the power to stop fraudulent news stories like this one in its tracks. In fact, the company just promised the public it would be cracking down on exactly this sort of hogwash.
But clearly those "fake news" identifying algorithms aren't all they're cracked up to be. The false news story has already accrued nearly half a million total Facebook engagements.
1. Hey, remember those algorithm changes at Facebook that was supposed to stop the spread of "fake news."— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) January 25, 2018
It's not working https://t.co/N69ug6plDc
Even Google has done a better job. It banned YourNewsWire from its advertising platform in 2017 after researchers in the European Union identified the site as a "proxy" for Russian disinformation.
As of 2018, Facebook has yet to do the same, allowing the website to publish a series of unsubstantiated stories claiming the White House has banned the flu vaccine and that President Trump himself is gearing up to ban mandatory vaccines outright.
So people, if you see any news from this shameful website please refrain from sharing or liking it before you have thorougly fact-checked.
According to Facebook's Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, social media content that sparks meaningful discourse and longer comments will receive more distribution on Facebook these days.
So no matter how much you want to fight the anti-vaxxers, it's better if you don't.