Here’s How Anti-Vaxxers Are Using Code To Avoid Social Media Bans

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Anti-vaxxers determined to keep spreading lies on social media are becoming increasingly creative as they try to get around efforts by Facebook, Instagram, et al, to prevent the spread of their disinformation. A number of Facebook groups now are employing euphemisms for their names, such as “Dance Party” or “Dinner Party” and using code words to avoid detection.

According to an NBC News report, the private, mostly unsearchable groups built up over the years before Facebook acted to screen out anti-vaccination content. One major “dance party” group has more than 40,000 followers; after it was detected it stopped allowing new users to join. But other groups created by the same moderators, one named “Dinner Party,” has amassed upwards of 20,000 followers.

Much of their communication relies on a practice known as “leetspeak,” which coders and gamers use during online discussions in which they replace letters in words with numbers or symbols to avoid detection by the algorithms developed to automatically detect false and misleading messages. Some of the agreed upon language swaps on Facebook and Instagram include referring to vaccinated people as “swimmers” and the act of being vaccinated as joining a “swim club.”

The administrator of one Facebook group posted that defeating the social media platform’s system “feels like a badge of honor.” At the end of that post the administrator reminded users to stay away from “unapproved words,” and pointed them to a code legend cheat sheet on the side of the page. References to “Pfizer” generally use the terms “pizza” or “Pizza King,” and Moderna is referred to as “Moana.”

Anti-vaxxers aren’t the only extremists to use code to get around being detected. The anti-government boogaloo movement derives much of its iconography from alternative names used to preventively skirt Facebook bans. The group’s members wear Hawaiian shirts and patches depicting igloos because some of the largest boogaloo Facebook groups changed their names to “Big Luau” and “Big Igloo” in advance of the group’s expulsion from Facebook.

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