Facebook membership of anti-mask groups shoots up nearly 2000% since August

‘No government or tyrant should control our faces,’ states one of 78 anti-mask groups on the social network

A protester wears a barbed wire mask as he attends a 'We Do Not Consent' anti-lockdown rally on 26 September, 2020 in London, England
A protester wears a barbed wire mask as he attends a 'We Do Not Consent' anti-lockdown rally on 26 September, 2020 in London, England

Membership to Facebook groups promoting anti-mask arguments has risen by nearly 2,000 per cent since August, new analysis has revealed.

The majority of the 78 groups discovered by The Independent have more than 1,000 members, many of which also promote baseless conspiracy theories relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

Separate analysis of data from the media tool Crowdtangle by The New York Times found that from the start of August through to 27 September, the total number of members to such groups rose from under 2,000 to over 43,000.

Many of the groups are specific to individual US states or towns, while others seek to spread misinformation on a broader scale. Names for these pages include “Christians against face masks”, “Unmask America”, “Free Face Society”, and “Anti-Mask Lives Matter”. 

All of them appear to either push the idea that face masks are not effective at stopping the spread of Covid-19, or that coronavirus itself is a hoax. They also seem to be particularly popular among anti-vaccination and 5G conspiracy theorists.

They also share a common trait of claiming that face masks infringe on their freedom and civil liberty.

“No government or tyrant should control our faces,” one group’s Facebook page states.

Another states: “A mask is not a life saver, it is a sign of compliance and subservience… Facts matter and the facts prove masks don’t work."

Scientific facts actually support the effectiveness of masks in reducing the spread of respiratory viruses, with health experts advising that face masks can help prevent transmission of Covid-19 in public settings.

One of the anti-mask groups on Facebook

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US urges anyone over two years of age to cover their face, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) also offers similar guidance, alongside hand hygiene and physical distancing. 

One group with more than 3,000 members urges members to invite all their Facebook contacts to join in order to promote the message. “Absolutely no pro-mask posts will be approved and anyone commenting with pro-mask bulls**t will be removed from the group,” it states.

Facebook said it is actively cracking down on the spread of misinformation relating to coronavirus and removes claims that directly contradict advice given by WHO that would lead to imminent physical harm.

“We remove any anti-mask claims that could contribute to risk of imminent physical harm, and we reduce the distribution of false claims that have been fact checked and show warning labels with more context," a spokesperson told The Independent.

In April, Facebook was plagued with groups that were falsely linking the pandemic to the roll-out of 5G technology.

Admins of these groups often created back-up pages in case theirs were deleted by Facebook - a tactic that many of the anti-mask groups are now using.

Facebook said it had removed 7 million pieces of coronavirus-related misinformation between April and June and placed warning labels on close to 100 million other posts. When contacted, the spokesperson appeared to be unaware of the latest anti-mask groups.

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