Fake screenshot attributes article on vaccine risks to UK professor
While health authorities consistently say the benefits of Covid-19 vaccination outweigh the risks, an image shared on social media appears to show an article from The Conversation questioning why unvaccinated individuals failed to warn others about the safety of the shots. But the photo is altered; the nonprofit outlet did not publish the piece, which originated on an apparent satire website.
"A lot of us knew from the get go that something just didn't add up so we did our own research from publicly available documents. We came to the conclusion that this was not a safe or wise thing to partake in," says a January 24, 2023 Instagram post. "We tried to warn everyone. Consequently we were labeled dangerous conspiracy theorists."
The post includes a purported screenshot of a headline from The Conversation, a website that publishes articles from academics and researchers. It says: "THEY KNEW: why didn't the unvaccinated do more to warn us?"
Another Instagram post sharing the image says: "We tried, but many were hard head, stiff neck and rebellious."
The posts come amid a flood of misinformation about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines. The Council of Canadian Academies found such false claims contributed to vaccine hesitancy in the country, leading to roughly 2,800 deaths and an estimated $300 million in health care costs in 2021.
The Conversation did not publish the article pictured in the social media posts.
The outlet said in a January 23 tweet that the photo is a "fake screenshot." The real article, published January 6, bears the headline: "COVID: unvaccinated people may be seen as 'free riders' and face discrimination."
The author, Alessandro Siani a researcher at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, confirmed to AFP that he "never wrote nor planned to write" a piece arguing that unvaccinated individuals have blood on their hands.
"I certainly don't agree with the message such fabrication conveys," he said in a January 26 email, noting that the fake screenshot shows a publication date in the future.
Siani said the use of his name and image led to harassing phone calls and emails.
"The majority of them were from Covid deniers and anti-vaxxers gloating because in their view the fabricated article proved that I had changed my stance with regards to the safety of vaccinations," he said.
To the contrary, Siani said: "Overwhelming experimental and clinical evidence indicates that vaccinations (including those against Covid-19) are an essential preventive measure, and that their effectiveness in preventing transmissible diseases largely outweighs any rare unwanted effects associated with their use."
In a January 24 tweet, the University of Portsmouth called for Twitter users to report the fake screenshot.
Similar posts circulated on Twitter, linking to an article with the same headline on the website IQfy. Jamie Sale, a Canadian Olympic figure skating champion whom AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading vaccine misinformation, and Lauren Witzke, a former Republican US Senate candidate who has expressed support for the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, amplified the piece.
IQfy describes itself as a "lifestyle and social commentary imprint of the Sunshine Initiative" targeted to "feminine audiences." The site appears to publish satire.
AFP contacted IQfy for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.
Health authorities in Canada and the US recommend Covid-19 vaccines to protect against serious illness, hospitalization and death.