By Erin K Costello
Yesterday morning, CNN released a news segment and an on-line report concerning disturbing behavior directed towards grieving parents from anti-vaxers. As a result there have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of social media posts discussing the existence of this horrible behavior from anti-vaxxers. Pro-vax have shared the CNN post while admitting to witnessing such behavior, and anti-vax have shared the CNN post overwhelmingly denying such behavior from their peers but then alleging to have witnessed these attacks from the pro-vax side. Here’s the thing…..both sides are correct about this, and both sides are wrong. First, let me address the errors I perceive.
**Small disclaimer at the end
HOW ANTI-VAX IS WRONG
In case you aren’t already aware, I am a supporter of vaccination. In the interest of transparency, let me also come clean and admit that I am the Erin Costello mentioned in the CNN article. I collected and shared with CNN evidence of this behavior from anti-vaxxers. Most of those commenting in the screen shots I collected I have witnessed being active members in the anti-vax groups for a couple years. I do not believe they are “controlled opposition” nor do I have any knowledge of anyone acting in such a manner. This isn’t to say there are not social media accounts created for the purpose of controlled opposition. This can be said for either side. However, I do not personally know of any on either side, and I can attest that many of those I have captured harassing grieving parents are in fact real people who are sincerely anti-vax. The CNN piece was not a misrepresentation of certain genuine individuals in the anti-vaccine community. If anything, it was a bit of an understatement. That being said, it does not represent the entire anti-vax community. However, anti-vaccine advocates need to realize and acknowledge that members of their community behave in this fashion. You can’t condemn what you don’t admit, and you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.
HOW PRO-VAX IS WRONG
Not many people will understand the frustration one feels when arguing with someone who refuses to vaccinate themselves or a loved one than myself, my fellow What's The Harm? or NO MAM admin, as well as our colleagues from other pro-vax social media platforms. Many of us have at one time or another given in to such frustrations and probably said something we shouldn’t have said. Though I have not noticed any vaccine supporters seeking out grieving parents on social media to harass and mock, that does not mean that equally bad behavior does not exist to some degree on our side. I have witnessed some vaccination supporters, in fact, wish death upon the un-vaccinated children of anti-vax parents. Though I can relate to sometimes having the desire to say something so alarming to shock the person in to realizing the dangers of their choices, this behavior is not acceptable. Regardless of what side you are on, it is never cool to bring the kids into this debate. If this tactic is one you regularly enact while Facebook fighting with anti-vaxers, I am asking you to please stop this. Please do not tell anti-vaccine advocates that you hope their kid gets sick and dies, or that you hope their kid catches a VPD (vaccine preventable disease) and suffers just enough to make the parents realize the errors of their ways. Regardless of your intentions, what you are actually doing is wishing pain and suffering on a child at best, and wishing death on a child at worst. The whole point of advocating for vaccinations is to prevent the needless suffering and death of children.
HOW BOTH SIDES ARE EQUALLY WRONG
I am not surprised that such behavior from our peers is not as easily noticed than behavior from the opposition. I have been guilty of doing this at times in the past and I am sure I will be again in the future. We often notice something only when we are looking for it. We often deny things we have noticed when our admittance will hurt our agenda. However, if you find yourself saying that your side is not as bad, or not as frequently bad as the other side, you are wrong. If you are pro-vax do you honestly think it’s better to wish death upon an alive child than it is to blame a parent for the death of a child? Naturally I will ask anti-vax; do you honestly think it is better to blame a parent for their child’s death than it is to hope a parent loses a child to disease? I acknowledge that the same disgusting behavior I have witnessed directed towards grieving parents by anti-vaxers also exists in the pro-vax side of this debate in some form. I acknowledge that there are about the same number of people who support vaccinations that behave this way as there are in those that refuse vaccinations. We all need to acknowledge this. I should have acknowledged this much sooner.
I know it is difficult to leave the kids out of this when so much of this debate focuses on the health and rights of children. However, we can all still care about the health and rights of children while also not hoping for harm or death to come to children, and without exploiting the death of a child as though it were a soap box to publicly lash out at grieving parents.
WHAT WE CAN ALL DO
When it comes to any area of life where humans are concerned there will always be bad actors, both intentional and unintentional. Some may be corrupt, some may be mischievous, some may just flat out be assholes. Minus those with nefarious intentions though, there will be some people who are overly passionate and lack a proper ability to express themselves and will often resort to insults and threats. It is easy to call out this behavior when it’s directed towards you or towards your peers. However, it’s more effective to call out this behavior when it is directed at the opposition and comes FROM your peers. I am not suggesting that we all speak up over every little thing we feel is offensive. There will always be a meme now and then that, in our mind, crosses a line. I myself have seen some memes and been offended, I am sure I have made memes that are offensive to some, and I know I have shared such memes. I also often see a meme made by someone in the anti-vax community that has made me laugh and admit “Ok. That’s funny. Fucked up, but still funny.” I am not referring to these types of things that some will find offensive on an individual level. We should all expect to walk away from the computer at times with a little butt-hurt. I am referring to the behavior that would offend all of us, and often does offend all of us. What I am suggesting is that we call out our peers when they threaten, wish death, mock grieving parents, encourage a mob mentality against an individual or family, and when they seek parents out on their own personal posts to berate them instead of offering prayers and support like the parents requested. Just call this behavior out. Let it be known that acknowledge this behavior, and you don't agree with this behavior regardless of where it is coming from or who it is directed towards. That is all.
We can all agree to disagree on every other aspect of this debate, but if you find yourself in agreement with any of this behavior then you aren’t in this fight on behalf of children. If you easily admit this behavior exists on the opposing side and that your side is largely innocent of the same, then you are a hypocrite. If you find yourself admitting that this exists on both sides but then make excuses on how your side is just a little less wrong than the other, then know you admit to having some acceptance for the act of wishing pain and suffering on a child, or showing glee over the death of a child. You can’t stop others from being an asshole. But you can choose to not be an asshole yourself, and you can choose to call out egregiously asshole behavior when you bear its witness.
*** I left "vaccine injury/death" out of this this blog post because the scientifically proven and well documented cases of children/people dying from or being seriously harmed from a vaccine are so incredibly rare that for me to suggest we all "err on the side of caution" and give credibility to these other claims by entertaining them as factual would be disingenuous to the real, proven, and documented examples of vaccine injury/death, as well as harmful to the disingenuous ones by ignoring the actual cause of such injury or death. If you are unable to see the logic in that flu-related deaths are proven through evidentiary science, and that "vaccine injury/deaths" are not proven through the evidence of "gut feelings," then let me just say that I do not have the education or degree necessary to help you on this matter. You can choose to trust your gut all you like, but you can't expect others to do so as well.
What's The Harm?