Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s anti-vax nonprofit removed from Facebook and Instagram

RFK Jr.’s anti-vax socials were taken down as they were found to be promoting misinformation

Published August 20, 2022 4:00AM (EDT)

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks onstage at Food & Bounty At Sunset Gower Studios on January 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California.  (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks onstage at Food & Bounty At Sunset Gower Studios on January 13, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaxxers have been, to a large degree, far-right MAGA Republicans and evangelical Christian fundamentalists — although former President Donald Trump himself has encouraged vaccination, and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has tried to put a pro-MAGA spin on the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines by describing them as "the Trump vaccine." Democrats have, for the most part, joined President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's top White House medical adviser, in encouraging vaccination for COVID-19. But one well-known Democrat who is known for his anti-vaxxer views is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who now finds himself at odds with Facebook and Instagram for spreading what those social media outlets consider misinformation.

Kennedy leads Children's Health Defense, a nonprofit anti-vaccine group. And on Thursday, August 18, its accounts were removed for both Facebook and Instagram, according to the New York Times. Those platforms are owned by their Silicon Valley-based parent company Meta.

Sheera Frenkel, a technology reporter for the New York Times and co-author of the 2021 book "An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination," explains, "In an e-mailed newsletter, Children's Health Defense said Facebook and Instagram had taken down its accounts after a 30-day ban by the social networks. The nonprofit, which Mr. Kennedy has run since 2018, accused the apps of censorship."

Kennedy, in an official statement, complained, "Facebook is acting here as a surrogate for the federal government's crusade to silence all criticism of draconian government policies."

That sounds like the type of rhetoric that Infowars' Alex Jones or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, both far-right MAGA Republicans and anti-vaxxers, would make. Jones, in fact, is so angry over Trump's support of COVID-19 vaccines that he is calling for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, not Trump, to be the 2024 GOP presidential nominee. But the 68-year-old Kennedy is hardly an Infowars employee. Kennedy comes from the Democratic Party's most famous political dynasty; he is the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (who was assassinated in June 1968 only two months after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination) and a nephew of President John F. Kennedy (who was assassinated in 1963). One of his uncles was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and his cousins include former Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island (one of Ted Kennedy's sons) and the late John F. Kennedy Jr.

The Kennedy family is synonymous with the Democratic Party and synonymous with liberal politics in New England. But CDF, Frenkel notes, is "widely regarded as a symbol of the vaccine resistance movement."

"Facebook's and Instagram's actions are a blow to Mr. Kennedy, who is the son of the former senator and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy," Frenkel observes in an article published on August 19. "But the account removals do not completely block him from speaking online. While Mr. Kennedy was personally barred from Instagram in February 2021, his personal Facebook page — with nearly 247,000 followers — is still up. Other Facebook pages dedicated to Children's Health Defense, including those of its California, Florida and Arizona chapters, also remain online and have thousands of followers, according to a review by The New York Times."

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s views put him at odds with many of his fellow Democrats, and vaccine proponents have accused him of spreading dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines — which they credit with saving lives.

First reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019, COVID-19 has, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, killed more than 6.4 million people worldwide, including over 1 million people in the United States — making it the world's deadliest health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919. Vaccine proponents such as Biden and expert immunologist Fauci have emphasized that while vaccines don't eliminate the possibility of being infected with COVID-19, they are likely to prevent a more dangerous infection. Biden and Fauci have both been infected with COVID-19 in 2022 despite receiving vaccines and booster shots; they are examples of what health experts call "breakthrough" infections, but both of them had milder cases and did not require hospitalization.

Frenkel observes, "Over the course of the pandemic, Children's Health Defense has repeatedly questioned the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, falsely saying that the vaccines cause organ damage and harm pregnant women. The organization has also tried sowing doubt about other kinds of vaccines. Over the last two months, it claimed that vaccines for tetanus caused infertility and that polio vaccines were responsible for a global rise in polio cases."

CORRECTION: This article has been revised since original publication to remove any reference to the Children's Defense Fund, a nonprofit founded in 1973 which has no connection to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or his organization Children's Health Defense.

By Alex Henderson

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