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Chapter Thirteen



Chapter Thirteen


Given the enormity of the threat documented in this report, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights has recommendations for Facebook, policymakers, human rights groups, and individuals to counter COVID denialism.

For Facebook

Deplatform COVID denial

Facebook must follow the company’s repeated promises and take swift and decisive action to end COVID denial on the platform. The public is seriously misinformed about the pandemic, democracy is undermined, and lives are threatened by COVID denial groups organized on the platform. Of particular importance are private COVID denial groups that operate with impunity hidden from the public eye. Deplatforming works. The time for gestures and half measures is long past. These groups long ago exceeded the threshold for enforcement action.

Facebook is an important tool of community and connection. IREHR is not calling for the deplatforming of the individuals involved in these groups who are not violating the threshold for enforcement action around the circulation of misinformation.

Prohibit COVID denial advertisements

Facebook is profiting off COVID denial, not just from the added engagement but from ad revenue. Some COVID denial groups and many other COVID denial candidates pay to run Facebook ads to rally support for their cause. Facebook should end this practice immediately.

Increase transparency

Researchers of misinformation and far-right social movements have repeatedly warned that Facebook’s changes to data access make it significantly harder to track misinformation and far-right activity on the platform. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, meaningful access to Graph API and other search functions were all but eliminated. Facebook contends that the company has provided additional access to information about misinformation through CrowdTangle, the social media tracking tool acquired in 2016. One problem: They don’t make CrowdTangle available to human rights research organizations like IREHR.

When IREHR contacted CrowdTangle recently to see about access for NGOs advertised on their website, the response was, “Unfortunately, we are only able to onboard select academic institutions and Facebook media publishing partners in the News and Entertainment verticals at the moment. We are a small team and don’t have the bandwidth to take on partners beyond this scope.”[288]

We concur with the Center for Countering Digital Hate’s recommendation that Facebook should introduce an Accountability API to “allow experts on sensitive and high-importance topics to perform the human analysis.”[289] COVID denial’s ability to mutate quickly requires real-time access to information for outside human rights experts. Otherwise, far-rightists will continue to game the system and stay one step ahead of Facebook’s automated systems.

For Policymakers

Policymakers at all levels of government have a role to play in ending COVID denial. In addition to publicly denouncing COVID denier activism, there are several things that policymakers can do to make a difference.

Congressional Investigation

Absent bold and decisive action by the platform, IREHR calls for a Congressional investigation into Facebook’s role in facilitating the spread of COVID denial and prolonging the pandemic. Facebook’s lack of transparency and efforts to obfuscate the depth of the far-right problem should also be addressed in such a hearing. If Facebook is unwilling to act to stave off this grave public health threat, federal platform regulation must also be on the table.

Extend COVID-19-related Assistance

Passing legislation that helps people through the challenges and hardships posed by the pandemic—an extension of the eviction moratorium, extension of unemployment benefits, and other programs—is an essential part of the fight against COVID denial. In addition, Congress should further address inequities in the health care system and increase access to vaccines. Congress should take specific action to address inequalities faced by communities of color and low-income people. These programs not only ease the pain of the pandemic for all, they also undercut any economic rationale used by COVID deniers.

Increase Safety for Workers

Too many professionals are leaving public service due to the constant bombardment of threats and harassment from COVID deniers. Congress should explore legislation that provides additional security for health care workers, nurses, doctors, public health officials, teachers, and others—during and after the pandemic.

For individuals and human rights groups

Deplatforming COVID denial is a necessary but insufficient step in stopping the spread of this threat. Now that it has migrated from online spaces to real-world confrontations, it requires a movement dedicated to democracy, human rights, and public health to stand against it.

Honking horns for healthcare workers and teachers may have helped bolster the spirits of exhausted workers during earlier phases of the pandemic. Now, those same workers are under attack. They need our support more than ever.

Get Vaccinated, Wear a Mask

Help stop the spread of the virus. If you are medically able, get vaccinated. When indoors and around others, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Model the behavior you would like to see in others.

Countering COVID denial is a human rights challenge

COVID denialism is a far-right threat to human rights, democracy, and public health. Therefore, we encourage all groups who monitor far-right activity to pay closer attention to COVID denial.

Countering COVID denial is a workers issue

The threat posed by COVID denialism is also a workers’ issue. Many frontline workers are now in the crosshairs of COVID deniers. The number of threats and incidents of harassment and violence towards teachers, administrators, health care professionals, and others is rising. We encourage unions to raise awareness of COVID denial in their membership ranks and enhance workers’ security during this enhanced threat period. If you are a union member, talk with your leadership about developing programs to counter COVID denial.

Document COVID denial activity

With or without Facebook intervention to stop the problem of COVID denial groups on the platform, deniers will continue to adapt to changing circumstances. For example, they made adopt different names, shift issue focus, or move to other platforms. IREHR needs your help in monitoring these changes. If you see changes in these groups, please let us know immediately.

If there is a COVID denial event or protest happening near you, record the event if possible. You can use Trepper: The Anti-Bigotry App to securely submit video to IREHR from your smartphone. We can help analyze and publicize the information.

Make a stand against COVID denial

Following a failed effort by far-right groups to “escort” a maskless student into Skyview High School in Vancouver, Washington, other students took matters into their own hands. Following the Labor Day recess, students courageously led counter-protests with signs that supported masking, including one that read, “Jesus would have worn a mask.”[290]

The counter-protests started with just one student but grew to include other students, parents, faculty, and staff. Students reported being harassed with homophobic and racist slurs yet vowed to be back any day the far-rightists returned. “The first priority is to keep the kids safe,” Skyview junior Clara Hawkins said. “Even though it might have been scary, it was definitely the right decision [to counter-protest]. And for people claiming to be protecting children — that was the exact opposite. They were trying to get into our school. They were harassing us, and it was unbelievable the things they were saying.”[291]

Whether through your union, your local human rights group, your school, your religious institution, neighbors, or other organization, unite with others to take a stand.

COVID denial takes advantage of the crushing isolation brought on by the pandemic. Observing masking and social distancing recommendations, mobilize to be present and bear witness at COVID denial protests. Face the fear together and stand for community.

Just as many human rights activists engaged in the defense of reproductive health clinics when anti-abortion activists threatened healthcare workers, consider volunteering to provide additional security for healthcare workers, teachers, and others threatened by COVID deniers.

Let your voice be heard

If you are worried about attending public events during the pandemic, you can write letters to the editor and statements in solidarity with health workers, teachers, kids, and others addressing the pandemic. You can also voice support for their safety on social media. A few examples of recent letters to the editor are included below.

Let your support for vaccines and masking ring out. Take the pandemic seriously and distinguish yourself from COVID deniers. Do your part to fight the spread of COVID denial.

Case Study: Clallam County Responds to COVID Denial

Clallam County is a rural community on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula that has experienced several recent far-right flare-ups.  The county’s second-largest city, Sequim, appointed a QAnon-supporting mayor last year. Around the time that people across the country were demonstrating against the death of George Floyd, a multiracial family on a camping trip near the town of Forks was followed by four trucks and menaced by rifle-wielding men who accused the family of being “Antifa” protesters.[292]

On September 3, COVID denial raged in Clallam County. An estimated 200 to 300 COVID deniers rallied outside the Clallam County Courthouse to protest a new requirement of proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor restaurant and bar patrons.[293] Organizers of the protest included members of the Facebook group, Resist for Freedom in Clallam County (770 members).

At the time of the protests, twenty-nine Clallam County residents had died from COVID-19, twenty were hospitalized, and 3,208 have had the virus. Six died in nearby Jefferson County.[294]

Not content with the protest outside, dozens stormed into the lobby, looking to physically confront Dr. Allison Berry, a health officer for Clallam and Jefferson Counties. The night before, protesters marched to what they thought was Dr. Berry’s home to confront her.

During the rally at the courthouse, one man shouted, “If you’re healthy, if you’ve had COVID, there’s no need to show your passport. It’s a step in the wrong direction. We need to stop it now.” Minutes later, a man shouted to the protesters through a megaphone, “To the front door, to the front door. We’re not here to hold signs.” As vehicle horns blared, a mass of people slowly moved to the entrance. No adults could be seen wearing masks.

A few seconds later, as the crowd kept moving, one man identified himself as “a freedom fighter from Washington.” He shouted, “We will not be stopped.” Then he urged the crowd, “they don’t want us to go through the front door.” Horns kept blaring as the protesters slowly streamed into the courthouse and walked toward the hallway. The crowd pressed towards law enforcement officers in the hall.

Law enforcement personnel had to block crowd members from proceeding down a hallway where a non-public COVID-19 briefing was held. According to Brian King, Clallam County chief criminal deputy, “The meeting was cut short once the crowd was attempting to make their way down the hall to the meeting room.” The group of protesters that stormed the lobby grew. They shouted chants against Dr. Berry and demanded she be fired. Thankfully, Dr. Berry joined the meeting remotely and was not in the building.

Community Response

Unwilling to allow a small group of protesters to risk the health and safety of the community and threaten public health professionals, a group of concerned community members started organizing efforts to stand up for democracy and public health. With the situation escalating, the pro-democracy anti-COVID forces began to mobilize.

They started by writing letters of support to Dr. Berry and the three county commissioners. They also wrote letters to the school board, which faced a protest organized by the Facebook group, Resist for Freedom in Clallam County.

Members also alerted other community members, the media, and human rights groups about the threats they were facing. They flooded Facebook and social media with statements denouncing the COVID deniers and supporting healthcare workers.

In the hopes of encouraging more readers to write their own letters of support in their communities, Clallam County pro-democracy/anti-COVID activists have agreed to share some of the letters they have submitted.


We are writing to you today to express our strong and unqualified support for Dr. Berry and the difficult decisions she is required to make as the public health official for Clallam County. It is clear that she called for the proof-of-vaccination mandate to slow the spread of covid, to protect peoples’ health, to ease the strain on our hospitals and healthcare workers, to keep students in school for in-person learning, and frankly, to save lives. She is drawing on sound scientific and medical information and local data to inform her decisions.

The virus is at a record high in Clallam County. Most of us understand the severity of the situation. We trust our local officials and we willingly comply with the mandates – in fact we celebrate the most recent one to create safe spaces to drink and dine indoors. We care about our families, friends and neighbors. We care about our community and we want this pandemic nightmare to end. We believe it is just a small, misguided and misinformed minority of people who are demonstrating their opposition to reasonable public health measures. They would find their precious personal liberty restored much faster if they would simply get vaccinated and wear masks.

Public health is not political or partisan. We urge you to publicly state your support for Dr Berry and her staff, provide her with the resources she needs to continue to do her job, and protect her safety and security as necessary.

Thank you.

Aaron and Paula Barnes

Sequim, WA


I arrived at the Clallam County Courthouse at 8:30 a.m. this morning Sept. 7. I was the first to sign up to deliver comments to the Clallam County Commissioners meeting. I had to sit on a park bench outside for two hours as a crowd of about 70 gathered, most of them unmasked and doubtless unvaccinated—a Trump-style “super-spreader” event by people wearing “No Mandate! No Vax!” T-shirts. “Fire Dr. Berry” and “Impeach Governor Inslee” were favorites. I was wearing a mask and double vaccinated and on my lapel, my “Black Lives Matter” button.

The place was swarming with police—County Sheriffs Deputies, Port Angeles Police, Washington State Troopers. Clallam County Sheriff, Bill Benedict, greeted me. “Are you expecting people from your side to demonstrate?” he asked me. “No,” I replied. “I actually sent out an email calling for a vigil in support of Dr. Berry but we decided to cancel it. So no, there will not be a crowd of our people here.”

“Good decision,” he said, nodding. Obviously law enforcement saw the dangers of a confrontation, even violence.

Yet I was not alone. Harmony Rutter, a progressive, grassroots activist was there. She greeted me and told me the gist of her comments: “I am grateful for Dr. Berry…I am grateful for….etc.”

In a speech broadcast over a public address system to the crowd, Commission Chair, Mark Ozias, delivered a sharp, clear denunciation of the rightwing goon squad that invaded the County Courthouse last Friday. He hailed Dr. Allison Berry’s leadership in the struggle against COVID-19. He said the County Commissioners unanimously support Dr. Berry including the mandate she issued requiring proof of vaccination for all patrons entering a restaurant or bar, all public employees and officials. Outside, the mob booed.

All those on the list to speak were called in by name to the County Commission’s makeshift hearing chamber. Mark Ozias called my name. I delivered my three-minute speech thanking Dr. Berry, holding up my COVID-19 vaccination card, and urging all the unvaccinated to get their shots—both of them. “The life you save may be your own or someone you love,” I said.

I could hear loud boos from the crowd outside, so I knew what I was saying is true.

Tim Wheeler

Acting Chair

Voices for Health & Healing

I completely support Dr. Allison Berry and her efforts to reduce the number of infections and deaths from Covid in Clallam County, including the mandate for restaurants accepting only vaccinated persons as their guests.  With the numbers high and still climbing in Clallam County, and hospital beds at their maximum capacity, it is her charge as a public health authority to do all possible to protect the public, whether they all agree with the restrictions or not.  Personally, I will choose only those restaurants who are abiding by the mandate, and I believe that those businesses will be the most successful as they fill their tables with vaccinated patrons who feel as safe as they can be, in an indoor setting.

The mandate is backed up by the science and the data; the opposition is backed only by deliberate misinformation, spread with the sole purpose of creating anger, division, and fear among the electorate.  Do not give in to this new form of mob rule.  It is beyond outrageous that Dr. Berry has to fear for her safety. Furthermore, I expect the Commissioners to firmly and clearly state their support for Dr. Berry and this mandate, knowing that in the long term, it will help our local economy recover quicker, as well as protect the health of our citizens.

Just like a bitter medicine that must be taken, this common sense mandate will ultimately help heal the patient, i.e. the public.  I urge you to acknowledge the displeasure of the anti-vaxxers, listen to their grievances – however misguided – but do not give in.  The future of our community, and its governance, depends on it.


Thank you.

Lisa Dekker


Twelve: Attacks on Workers and Unions


Appendix A: Research Methodology


[288] “RE: NGO Crowdtangle Access Request.” Email from CrowdTangle to IREHR, August 31, 2021.

[289] Center for Countering Digital Hate. “The Disinformation Dozen: Why Platforms Must Act on Twelve Leading Online Anti-Vaxxers.” March 24, 2021.

[290] Robbins, Becca. “Skyview students, parent ready to counter anti-mask protesters.” The Columbian. September 7, 2021.

[291] Robbins, Becca. “Skyview students, parent ready to counter anti-mask protesters.” The Columbian. September 7, 2021.

[292] Li, David K. “Multiracial family on Washington state camping trip is accused of being antifa and menaced.” NBC News. June 9, 2020.

[293] Gottlieb, Paul. “Hundreds Gather at Clallam Courthouse, seeking health officer.” Sequim Gazette. September 8, 2021.

[294] Gottlieb, Paul. “Berry critics pack into board meeting.” Peninsula Daily News. September 8, 2021.

Facebook and COVID Denial

How the platform is fueling another wave of far-right activism, insurrectionism, and violence, and what we can do to stop it.
A Special Report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights

Copyright © 2021. Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.