Recently, a cabal of anti-vaccine activists, lead by a California woman, have been using Facebook to harass and intimidate advocates for science in public policy. This is not a new thing, harassing pro-science folk. What's new is the use of Facebook, and therein lies the problem.
June 2010: The administrators at the anti-vaccine, anti-autism web publication Age of Autism urge their readers to advocate for the firing or discipline of David Gorski, MD PhD.
- June 14, 2010 David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine In which Dr. Gorski once again finds himself a target of the “pharma shill” gambit
- June 22, 2010 Liz Ditz at I Speak of Dreams The "Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic" Hits a New Low in Personal Attacks
- June 28,2010: David Gorski MD at Science-Based Medicine The price of opposing medical pseudoscience
2012: Someone using the pseudonym Sue NoVax starts a Change.org petition to ban personal page and group pages with she disagrees: BAN THE ACCOUNTS/ PAGES BULLYING & TORMENTING. The petition is disastrously unpopular.
January, 2013: Hollie, an administrator of the Facebook page, Motherhood: The Truth leaves a threatening message on Professor Dorit Rubenstein Reiss's work voicemail.
- January 17, 2013 Liz Ditz at I Speak of Dreams: How one anti-vax activist responds to evidence-based critiques of her beliefs: threats.
- January 18, 2012 ToddW at Harpocrates Speaks Stop Criticizing Me or I'll Blow Up the Internet
- January 17, 2013 Catherina at Just the Vax When the Truth Calls
Sometime in late 2013 to early 2014, the focus of anti-vaccine activism moved to Facebook, with numerous groups springing up.
Moving the conversation to Facebook changes the terms of engagement from previous blog-based harassment. You see, Facebook (rather than the individual blog writers or owners) controls the conversation, and the system can be gamed. Anti-vaccine activists were quick to pounce on the gaming aspect, using Facebook's reporting algorithms to not only delete posts or comments they found unfavorable, but to have the authors banned entirely from Facebook, for times ranging from hours to weeks. Like it or not, Facebook has become a dominant way people communicate -- one-to-one, and in groups. Cutting off a person's access to Facebook, via a ban, severely impairs a person's ability to communicate with their personal circles and their professional circles.
October 2013: Members of what was then known as the Australian Vaccine Network (AVN), a virulently anti-vaccine organization, mounted a multi-pronged attack on anyone who disagreed with their beliefs, using among other tools, fraudulent Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices and bogus complaints to Facebook about harassment and/or inappropriate content.
- October 3, 2013 Reasonable Hank at Reasonable Hank: Nasty, suppressive, rabid, idiotic fringe-dwellers: inside the minds of the AVN
- December 24, 2013 Dorit Rubenstein Reiss at the Times of Israel Abusing the Algorithm: Using Facebook Reporting to Censor Debate
- December 26, 2013 Dan Buzzard at Dan's Journal of Skepticism Anti-vaxxers ramp up censorship campaign.
- December 31, 2013 Reasonable Hank at Reasonable Hank: Meryl Dorey and her anti-vaccine organisation: abusing Facebook's reporting mechanism with spite
- January 2, 2014 David Gorksi at ScienceBased Medicine Facebook’s reporting algorithm abused by antivaccinationists to silence pro-science advocates
December 2013-January 2014:
There is a Facebook page called the Anti-Vaccine Wall of Shame (AVWOS) (disclosure: I am a member). This is part of the page's statement of purpose and posting rules.
Pretty simple folks. We all know that AVers tend to say the stupidest sh!t, this group is a way that we can catalogue it and then mock it into the dust for all of Facebook to see.
...This is a place to mock and snark. People who ask "why aren't y'all being nicer to the vaccine denialist cult members and trying to educate them" are missing the point - there are many many many other sources of education and information. Some of us are actually involved in those sources (books, pages, websites, community organizations, etc.). This group, however, is a place for us to blow off steam regarding the frustrations we experience dealing with these entrenched, intransigent cult members. A wise member here described this as our staffroom - we're not here to be nice. That's for elsewhere.
January 2014: Evidently US anti-vaccinationists noticed the success the Australian AVers had in stifling science on Facebook, and mounted a concerted attack on the page AVWOS Facebook banned, then unbanned the entire Anti Vax Wall of Shame, and banned the page's adminstrators for various periods.
- January 10, 2014, Michael Simpson at Skeptical Raptor Facebook Bans Then Unbans A Pro-Vaccine Group
- January 10, 2014 Liz Ditz at I Speak of Dreams, Facebook Participating In Censorship of Science and Rational Thought. Again.
October -November 2014: The National Vaccine Injury Center (NVIC) a private not-for-profit organization that lobbies against public health improvements and promotes vaccine refusal, asked for reviews of their FaceBook page. Public health advocates cheerfully complied, which lead NVIC to remove all reviews.
In response, on October 28, 2014 Tim Bolen at the Bolen Report Inept "Skeptics" Attack NVIC FaceBook Page
Late 2014- 2015: A person named Monique Rimi takes offense at the Facebook page, Anti Vax Wall of Shame (AVWOS) and Allison Hagood's vaccine activism and starts a Change.Org petition to Hagood's employers, seeking her termination. The petition is roundly mocked -- I and others signed the petition in jest. This sent Rimi and her colleague, Heather Murray (AKA Heather A. Murray) into paroxysms of rage. This cabal increased their attacks on Hagood, even starting a whole website just to harass Ms. Hagood.
On March 21, 2015, Dan Buzzard documented the Facebook campaign with screenshots, such as the one below, in Anti-vaxxers continue their Facebook censorship campaign.
Meanwhile, Monique Rini and her colleague, Heather Murray, continued the campaign against Allison Hagood and AVWOS, mostly at the Facebook Page The Vaccine Resistance Movement (VRM, a public page). Then in mid-2015, Allison Hagood was banned from Facebook, for reposting an pro-Hitler, anti-semitic rant from Heather Murray, originally posted at VRM. There were no Facebook sanctions whatsoever against VRM or Heather Murray.
June 13, 2015 Stacy Herlihy (Hagood's co-author on Your Baby's Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives) took to the Times of Israel to air the iniqities of Facebook, Facebook and the Misguided Protection of Anti-Semites
. On June 29, 2015 Anna Merlan, writing at Jezebel, published Meet the New, Dangerous Fringe of the Anti-Vaccination Movement, which detailed the harassment around the fight to pass #SB277, California's new, stricter law about vaccines required for school.
January-March 2016: Allison Hagood continues to be under attack, primarily from Heather Murray and her cabal.
- March 6, 2016 Dorit Rubenstein Reiss at Skeptical Raptor Antivaccine Activists Attack Allison Hagood Using Facebook March 11 2016 Updated to add: Here is Heather's response to Dorit's post:
- March 9, 2016 Epi Ren at Epidemiological That pesky English language
The anti-vaccine idiots who claim to be well-educated were going on and on about Skeptical Raptor using the word “niggardly” in one of his online discussions. They almost dance in celebration that they had something on him. They thought they had him for being a racist. Because “niggardly” is a racist term in their minds.
- March 10, 2016 Orac Knows at Respectful Insolence Once again, Facebook reporting algorithms facilitate harassment of pro-science advocates by antivaccine cranks, in which he wrote:
Facebook’s reporting algorithm is now a tool of harassment, such that it can be used again and again to keep pro-science advocates banned and continually on their guard. Finally, Facebook’s double standard is so incredible that many complaints about things that should be complained about and should result in a ban result in no action. I personally have complained about harassing posts about myself and others, and each and every time I’ve received a notice that the post “does not violate Facebook community standards.” I’ve heard similar stories from several others.
In an AVWOS post by Dorit Rubenstein Reiss discussing Orac's post, Allison Hagood observed that "posts that mention someone by first name only are being removed as harassment, while posts that mention me by full name along with open threats, harassment, and calls for people to file fraudulent complaints against me and contact my employer to have me fired, are not removed and not considered a violation of community standards." Later, Reiss's Facebook post to AVWOS was reported as hate speech:
In a comment on Orac's post, [March 13 2016 edited to reveal the person's name, with her permission] another individual reported that Heather Murray has also attacked others:
Melissa Kane Kansas City, MO March 11, 2016
Thank you for writing this article. I’ve always stood strong in my belief that Ms. Murray doesn’t care one way or the other about vaccines. Harassing and stalking people, while trying to play the victim, is the name of her game.
What earned me my 3 day ban on the faceplace was a comment made in Apr of 2014 that simply said, “I don’t actually think it’s the same Heather. I have a hard time thinking that “Heather” is a Heather at all. I’ve just hardly ever met a female racist, homophobic, Holocaust denier.”
I don’t see how this violated any of Facebook’s standards.
In the mean time Ms. Murray went after me and my whole family, minor children included, with the vengence of someone that made it their full time job. Much like she’s doing to Allison.
She started with the usual jabs about my weight, the way my children look, and then moved on to my husband. The one that doesn’t even drink alcohol. She used his full name, claimed he was an unemployed meth user with HIV that plays in a basement band. He is a well respected musician here in KCMO, but the rest was just her stereotyping. He has a “real” job with a multi-billion dollar corporation as a billing specialist. When we reported this to Facebook they did nothing, so my husband had to take it to the legal dept at his place of work. Where he underwent a drug test and HIV test, and the legal dept sent her a cease and desist. Angry she was proven wrong about his ability to play multiple instruments in multiple bands, and have a respectable job, she doxxed his place of employment, and called for all her flying monkies to call and harass them. Again Facebook did nothing. She then took profile pictures of ours and used it as the cover pic for one of her hate on Allison pages. My eldest happened to be in a caat in that pic because she tore her tendons in her thumb. She then called for everyone to call CPS on us because we “beat our children”, Once again, Facebook did nothing. She went on to fill that thread with pictures she had to scroll back to the beginning of both my, and my husband’s Facebook account to find. Pictures of me drinking out of a champagne bottle at the age of 21…..7yrs before I had kids, claiming I’m an alcoholic. Pictures of my husband’s bachelor pad before we even started dating and he used to smoke cigarettes inside his home. And Facebook did nothing. She even faxxed these pictures to my eldest daughter’s school. So proof she stalked an 11yr old.
Ms. Murray suffers from some severe mental disorders. I don’t feel right making fun of her because of these disorders, but I do find her dangerous and feel that the public should be warned.
Personally I find Melissa Kane's forbearance toward Murray quite remarkable.
I will keep updating this list as things develop.
Edited to add, March 12 2016: Today at SXSW, there is an Online Harassment Summit. It's worth keeping an eye on.
Edited to add, March 13 2016
Allison Hagood: I really feel the need to address this. There is a pro-vaccine person posting over on VRM, and this screenshot is one of his/her (the account has a female name, but you never know) posts.
THIS IS NOT OKAY. This does not and SHOULD NOT represent those of us who advocate for, and recognize the science of, vaccines. Please, do not do this. There is a reason why this kind of post is not welcome on AWVoS.
Edited to add, March 13, 2016. Heather is now threatening Stacy Herlihy, Allison Hagood's co-author
March 12, 2016
Heather sent my husband a nasty pm on Facebook. She’s threatening to call him a pedo and threatening to put up a site in my name calling me a racist because um . . . I’m Jewish and I don’t hate Israel and I made some mild criticisms of Christian doctrine just like I criticize Jewish laws and. . . um Jews are all racists or something like that.
Apparently her poor daddy would faint if he knew his daughter was wearing that hood. So we’re supposed to let her be a Nazi. We’re just not supposed to call her a Nazi.
Or something like that. I think.
This is the text of the pm my husband was sent:
https://Www.avwos.com coming soon stacyherlihy.com which since your wife like to call me a racist c word as do its going to feature her hate filled comments, racist views oh and her attacks on my 90 year old father. You know calling a WW2 veterans child a Nazi isn’t going win people over. Nor is the fact that her hubby post pictures of naked little girls on his Facebook.
Stacy, take that to a lawyer ASAP, it is prima-facie evidence of extortion.
One of the definitions of extortion is a threat to denounce someone for a criminal act unless they comply with a demand. A threat to sue someone in civil court unless they comply with a demand is not extortion, but a threat of a criminal prosecution is.
To publicly make a claim that a person has child abuse photos, is to immediately invite a criminal investigation of that person. To threaten to make that claim unless the person complies with a demand, is extortion, and doing it over an interstate telecommunications medium makes it a federal crime.
First step: take it to your lawyer. Second step depending on what your lawyer says, or first step if you do not have a lawyer, take it to the FBI. Since it involves claims of child abuse photos, possession of which is a federal crime, that will raise it to a higher priority than other possible types of extortionate threats.
Edited to add, March 13, 2016. Heather has reported the following year-old post at AVWOSas violating community standards
FML [how AVWOS is now referring to Heather Murray and her cabal] is peaking out on VRM. She really doesn't like our very own Allison Hagood. The other flying monkeys come and join in, defecate everywhere, then begin to accuse other nutters of being trolls. The Princess tries to control thiings, and gets laughted at. So all in all - a very typical VRM thread. I no longer need to write the Fairy Tales. They now write themselves. [link to old VRM discussion]
Heather's post read
By her own admission Allison Hag the cult leader over at Anti Vax wall of shame claims that she's been saved by psych meds as have many of her members. but she just loves to label and diagnosis strangers all day long over the internet based on Facebook posts. Hey Al it might be time to get a higher dose and I'm sorry about getting hyour age wrong. I meant to say you look like you're 59.
Note that the reported post, before it was redacted to obscure her name, used only Heather Murray's first name, and her first name only, and referred to Allison Hagood by her full name. It seems like Facebook is responding positively to every one of Heather Murray's reports, while doing nothing to protect Allison Hagood and Stacy Herlihy from really vile attacks. Some people think that Heather has a sympathetic contact at Facebook.
Updated to add: March 20, 2016: Michael Simpson posts screenshots of Heather Murray's vile Holocaust denialism and anti-semitism, in Racist Facebook Troll Attacks Pro-Science Writers.
He also helpfully posted the comment that got him a 24 hour ban (which I did not see at the time):
Remember, this is what Heather Murray claimed about that comment:
So. Murray's Holocaust-denying, Judaism-reviling ideology is abhorrent. She has been on a binge of Facebook harassment for months. Does Facebook care? No. Do any of her fellow anti-vaccine activists rebuke her for her abhorrent ideas? Not that I've seen.
Updated to Add
From Orac Knows on April 1, 2016: An antivaccine activist explains how she uses Facebook reporting algorithms to harass and silence pro-science bloggers
So, yes, Ms. Murray, through her own copious statements, regularly reveals herself to be anti-Semitic as hell, and a Holocaust denier, to boot. I’d love to see her come here and spew her bigoted pseudohistory. I guarantee you that, as is the case with antivaccine loons, she can’t repeat a claim that I haven’t heard and analyzed many times before. In any case, I feel the need for a shower after that, so much so that I’ll just leave you this link if you want to see more of her blatant anti-Semitism, other than this last example I’m posting here:
OK, so from my perspective (and that of most people who do not share her bigoted views), Ms. Murray is a despicable, contemptible woman. That isn’t the reason I posted this, although posting this did give me an excuse to emphasize just how nasty she is, something I failed to do last time. (I don’t know what I was thinking then.) Far more important, however, is that she is now explaining how she targets pro-science advocates. A series of comments from her from a super-secret closed Facebook group have found their way into the “wrong” hands (i.e., ours)