WASHINGTON – An 18-year-old from Ohio who famously inoculated himself against his mother’s wishes says he attributes his mother’s anti-vaccine ideology to a single source: Facebook.
Ethan Lindenberger, a high school senior, testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, underscoring the importance of “credible” information. In contrast, he said, the false and deep-rooted beliefs his mother held – that vaccines were dangerous – were perpetuated on social media. Specifically, he said, she turned to anti-vaccine groups on social media for evidence that supported her point of view.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Lindenberger said Facebook, or websites that were linked through Facebook, is the only source his mother ever consulted on the topic.
Most important, Lindenberger said, was the impact Facebook’s anti-vax communities had on his family.
“I feel like if my mom didn’t interact with that information, and she wasn’t swayed by those arguments and stories, it could’ve potentially changed everything,” Lindenberger said. “My entire family could’ve been vaccinated.”
Lindenberger said he believed his older siblings, who predate Facebook, had been vaccinated. He said his younger siblings have not.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explicitly states that there is no link between vaccines and autism. The CDC also warns of falsehoods, easily disseminated online.
“I didn’t agree with anything he said.” Jill Wheeler, Lindenberger’s mother, told the Associated Press. “They’ve made him the poster child for the pharmaceutical industry.”
The Post has previously reported on the ways Facebook has served as a place of refuge for parents who reject facts on immunizations. The platform targeted advertisements and anti-vaccination materials aimed toward women in regions with high numbers of measles reports. This happened after pressure from lawmakers and professionals in the medical field about the spread of misinformation related to vaccines.
“We’ve taken steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook, but we know we have more to do,” Facebook said in a statement to The Washington Post last month.