It’s no surprise that people pushing anti-mask arguments popped up online around the time the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March and April.
But here is what might surprise you: The audience for misleading anti-mask posts on Facebook has grown sharply in the last eight weeks, despite the growing evidence that masks can help prevent the spread of the virus.
The number of people who have joined anti-mask Facebook groups has grown 1,800%, to more than 43,000 users, since the beginning of August, according to an analysis of data provided by Crowdtangle, a media tool that Facebook owns. Almost half of the 29 anti-mask groups discovered by The New York Times were created in the last three months, with names like “Mask off Michigan” and “Mask Free America Coalition.”
Many of the posts on the pages include false or misleading information. The topics range from the sale of fraudulent mask-exemption cards, the promotion of “America’s Frontline Doctors,” a fringe group of medical professionals promoting pseudoscience, and a barrage of memes incorrectly claiming that masks are harmful to one’s health. One anti-mask meme led to Donald Trump Jr. being suspended from Twitter for 12 hours in late July.
Articles from conservative media sites like The Daily Wire, The Blaze and Fox News were among the most heavily shared news articles inside the network of anti-mask Facebook groups.
Researchers have long said that masks can prevent people from spreading airway germs to others. And they have also pointed to evidence suggesting that masks also protect the people wearing them.
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