Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists have joined forces in a bizarre lawsuit that accuses The Washington Post, the BBC, the Associated Press, and Reuters of violating 19th-century antitrust laws by refusing to credit bogus COVID-19 conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine misinformation.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., one of the most prominent anti-vaxxers and the son of the late Democratic presidential candidate, joined 10 other plaintiffs in a suit that claims the news outlets are illegally boycotting right-wing conspiracy theories by engaging in an industry partnership to fight misinformation.
The nearly 100-page complaint claims that the Trusted News Initiative, started by the BBC in late 2020, violates the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which prohibits industry cartels, price fixing, and other anti-competitive behavior.
According to Kennedy’s complaint, prominent news organizations and social media platforms conspired to label right-wing talking points about COVID vaccines, quack COVID-19 remedies like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, and Hunter Biden’s laptop as misinformation because the outlets pushing them represent a “competitive threat to legacy news organizations.”
The Trusted News Initiative partners sued by Kennedy and others describe itself as a “global partnership bringing together organisations across media and technology to tackle harmful disinformation.” Members of the initiative, including both news publishers and social media companies, “alert each other to high-risk disinformation” to ensure that both publishers and social media platforms don’t “unwittingly share dangerous falsehoods,” according to its website.
The co-plaintiffs on the suit read like a who’s who of conspiracy theorist pundits. They include half the members of the so-called “disinformation dozen” — a list of 12 anti-vaccine influencers, which the Center for Countering Digital Hate estimated were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the anti-vaccine misinformation on social media.
Among the outlets allegedly targeted as a “competitive threat” to the BBC, Reuters, and AP is The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website published by co-plaintiff Jim Hoft. Hoft’s site is currently facing a series of lawsuits alleging his outlet has defamed election workers in Georgia and the voting technology firm Dominion. The outlet is notorious for repeatedly misidentifying murderers in prominent public attacks, including the driver behind an attack at the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist riot, the Las Vegas mass shooter, and the shooter at a 2018 Madden NFL video game tournament.
Creative Destruction Media, another plaintiff in the suit alleging illegal anti-competitive behavior, listed among its complaints that Facebook “blocked all CD Media content after a post that included images of Hunter Biden from LinkedIn and Facebook and stated, ‘we have the Hunter Biden sex tapes…one per hour being released.’”
Kennedy rose to fame as an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist in part on the strength of his 2005 Rolling Stone article “Deadly Immunity,” which falsely asserted a link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientists have since repeatedly debunked claims of a link between vaccinations and autism, and Rolling Stone retracted the article in 2011.