Results from 6-year-old Anastasia Weaver’s autopsy may take weeks. But online anti-vaccine activists needed only hours after her funeral this week to baselessly blame the COVID-19 vaccine, per the AP. A prolific Twitter account posted Anastasia’s name and smiling dance portrait in a tweet with a syringe emoji. A Facebook user messaged her mother, Jessica Day-Weaver, to call her a “murderer” for having her child vaccinated. In reality, the Ohio kindergartner had experienced lifelong health problems since her premature birth, including epilepsy, asthma, and frequent hospitalizations with respiratory viruses. “The doctors haven’t given us any information other than it was due to all of her chronic conditions. ... There was never a thought that it could be from the vaccine," Day-Weaver said of her daughter's death.
But those facts didn’t matter online, where Anastasia was swiftly added to a growing list of hundreds of children, teens, athletes, and celebrities whose unexpected deaths and injuries have been incorrectly blamed on COVID-19 shots. Using the hashtag #diedsuddenly, online conspiracy theorists have flooded social media with news reports, obituaries, and GoFundMe pages in recent months, leaving grieving families to wrestle with the lies. There’s the 37-year-old Brazilian television host who collapsed live on air because of a congenital heart problem. The 18-year-old unvaccinated bull rider who died from a rare disease. The 32-year-old actress who died from bacterial infection complications.
The use of “died suddenly”—or a misspelled version of it—has surged more than 740% in tweets about vaccines over the past two months compared with the two previous months, the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs found in an analysis conducted for the Associated Press. The phrase’s explosion began with the late November debut of an online “documentary” by the same name, giving power to what experts say is a new and damaging shorthand. “It’s kind of in-group language, kind of a wink wink, nudge nudge,” said Renee DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory. “They’re taking something that is a relatively routine way of describing something—people do, in fact, die unexpectedly—and then by assigning a hashtag to it, they aggregate all of these incidents in one place.”
An AP review of more than 100 tweets from the account in December and January found that claims about the cases being vaccine related were largely unsubstantiated and, in some cases, contradicted by public information. Some of the people featured died of genetic disorders, drug overdoses, flu complications, or suicide. One died in a surfing accident. The filmmakers did not respond to specific questions from the AP, but instead issued a statement that referenced a “surge in sudden deaths” and a “PROVEN rate of excess deaths,” without providing data. Read the full story.
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