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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C Dolores Cahill

Group spreading false Covid-19 claims doubled Facebook interactions in six months

World Doctors Alliance was co-founded by former UCD Professor Dolores Cahill.

FACEBOOK PAGES BELONGING to a group that spread Covid-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories more than doubled the number of interactions it got in the first six months of 2021 despite the social media giant’s promise to tackle false claims.

A study published today by the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that members of the World Doctors Alliance (WDA) now have more than half a million followers on their Facebook pages — a 13,000% increase since the start of the pandemic.

The group was co-founded by former UCD Professor Dolores Cahill who has made a number of false claims about Covid-19 and vaccines. It was confirmed by The Journal last month that Cahill is no longer employed by the university. 

According to ISD’s report, videos posted by these Facebook pages have been viewed more than 21.1 million times and have accumulated a total of 5.77 million interactions, with interaction rates increasing by 85% in the first six months of 2021 compared to the previous six months.  

The research found that Cahill was included in 75 of the 189 WDA articles fact-checked by Facebook. 

However, “no decisive action has been taken against her Facebook page, which currently has over 129,000 followers,” according to ISD. 

Of the 50 most popular posts about the WDA and its members in English, Spanish, Arabic and German, researchers found that most contained misleading or false information.

Other prominent members of the group include Dr Scott Jensen, a former State Senator from Minnesota.

Jensen made headlines last year when he said extra payments for Covid-19 patients created an incentive for doctors to inflate patient numbers. 

Cahill has made a number of false or misleading claims relating to Covid-19 vaccines, several of which have been debunked by The Journal over the course of the pandemic.

They include claims that masks and social distancing are not required because Covid-19 can be treated with “nutrition, vitamins and hydroxychloroquine”.

Cahill has gained a controversial reputation through her pronouncements about the Covid-19 pandemic.

As recent as 10 August she was charged with two alleged offences in relation to a rally against lockdown restrictions at Trafalgar Square in London last September.

But after failing to answer bail, an arrest warrant has now been issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Cahill addressed the large anti-lockdown, anti-mass vaccination protest in Trafalgar Square on 19 September 2020, where over 30 people were arrested for breaching England’s Covid restrictions.

During her speech, Cahill incorrectly stated that because “nobody is dying [of Covid-19], according to official statistics, then the legal basis of the public health emergency is not there”.

She also hit the headlines after a viral video showed her arguing with a garda sergeant outside an election count centre during the Dublin Bay South by-election. 

“It is clear that the World Doctors Alliance has enjoyed a period of dramatic growth in engagement and number of followers across platforms since the beginning of 2020, despite platform commitments to limit or remove the kind of false and misleading information that members of the network have been shown to spread,” according to ISD’s report.

“On Facebook in particular, members have seen their pages grow in popularity by staggering amounts, which could continue at pace if left unimpeded.

“This is significant as it reflects the limitations of social media platforms to uphold and enforce their own policies to tackle the issue of harmful disinformation about Covid-19 and vaccinations.”

ISD said Facebook is failing to track down and label all versions of posts that have been deemed false by fact-checkers, despite claiming that it has AI technology that does this with a “very high degree of precision”. 

Only three WDA members responded to request for comment, according to ISD’s report. Cahill did not respond. 

A Facebook company spokesperson said:

“In July, we removed the group named in this report, World Freedom Alliance, for repeatedly violating our COVID-19 policies and we will continue to remove pages, groups, or accounts that repeatedly violate our policies.

“Since the pandemic began, our goal has been to promote reliable information about COVID-19, take more aggressive action against misinformation, and encourage people to get vaccinated. So far, we’ve connected over 2 billion people to authoritative information from health experts, removed 20 million pieces of COVID misinformation, and labelled more than 190 million pieces of COVID content rated by our fact-checking partners.” 

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