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Instagram bans Robert F. Kennedy Jr. over false vaccine, Covid claims

The move comes as Facebook, which owns Instagram, announced that it was expanding efforts to crack down on accounts that spread debunked information.
Image: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talks with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 10, 2017, after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.Evan Vucci / AP file

Outspoken anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been banned from Instagram, a spokesperson said.

His account was removed Wednesday for "repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines," said a spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram.

Kennedy's Facebook page was still active as of Thursday morning.

When asked whether that account would also be banned, the spokesperson said, "We don’t automatically disable accounts across our apps, because the accounts may post about different things on our different services."

On Monday, Facebook announced that it was expanding efforts to crack down on accounts that spread false claims about the coronavirus pandemic or vaccines, including the Covid-19 shots. The company said it was also making it harder to find such accounts via the search function.

"We are continuing to improve Search results on our platforms. When people search for vaccine or Covid-19 related content on Facebook, we promote relevant, authoritative results and provide third-party resources to connect people to expert information about vaccines," a press release states. "On Instagram, in addition to surfacing authoritative results in Search, in the coming weeks we’re making it harder to find accounts in search that discourage people from getting vaccinated."

Kennedy, the son of late former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, has spoken out against vaccinations for years. In May 2019, several of his family members wrote in an op-ed that his controversial claims have "helped to spread dangerous misinformation."

"We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment," sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, brother Joseph P. Kennedy II and niece Maeve Kennedy McKean wrote for Politico. "However, on vaccines he is wrong."

Kennedy said in a statement Thursday that every post he put on Instagram "was sourced from a government database, from peer-reviewed publications and from carefully confirmed news stories."

"None of my posts were false. Facebook, the pharmaceutical industry and its captive regulators use the term ‘vaccine misinformation’ as a euphemism for any factual assertion that departs from official pronouncements about vaccine health and safety, whether true or not. This kind of censorship is counterproductive if our objective is a safe and effective vaccine supply," he said, in part.

After once again criticizing vaccinations, Kennedy said in his statement that he was punished, shamed and vilified.

"Anyone can see that this is a formula for catastrophe and a coup d’état against the First Amendment, the foundation stone of American democracy," he said.