Your son died. And then the anti-vaxers attacked her.


Bewildered and scared, a few days after her son's death, she checked her Facebook page in hopes of reading messages of comfort from family and friends.

Instead, she found dozens of obnoxious comments: you're a lousy mother. You killed your son. You deserved what happened to your son. This is all false – your child does not exist.

Confused and shaken, she closed her application on Facebook.

A few days later, she received a text message from someone named Ron. Wait a second, Ron warned. Wait for more.

The attacks were those who oppose vaccination, and this mother, who lives in the Midwest, does not want her name used for fear that attention will only encourage more messages.

Nothing very cruel

Interviews with mothers who have lost children and those who spy on anti-vaccination groups reveal a tactic employed by anti-vassals: When a child dies, members of the group sometimes encourage each other to enter their father's Facebook page. Anti-vaxers then post messages telling parents that they are lying and that their children never existed, or that the father killed them, or that the vaccines killed the child, or some combination of them.

Nothing is considered too cruel. A few days after the death of their children, the mothers say the anti-vassals in the social media called them prostitutes, swearing, and murderous babies.

The mother of the Midwest, who wants to remain anonymous, is not alone.

Jill Promoli, who lives outside Toronto, lost her child to the flu. She believes that anti-vassals are trying to silence the very people who can make the strongest argument for vaccination: those whose children died of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Jude McGee, who died of the flu at age two. His mother, Jill Promoli, has been abused by anti-vaxers.
Flu took the life of Promoli's 2-year-old son, Jude McGee, three years ago. She has since started a campaign on her behalf for the prevention of influenza, including vaccination.

"I know these people are really trying to hurt me, and I understand that the reason they are doing it is because they want me to stop," she said.

Anti-vaxers respond

Larry Cook, the founder of Stop Mandatory Vaccination, does not deny that such attacks on mothers of dead children exist.

In an e-mail to CNN, he wrote that members of his group make more than half a million comments on the group's Facebook page each month.

Some states allow parents to leave vaccination. So this happens

"Any discussion about parents who lost their children after these children were vaccinated would be fewer, and even fewer would be the number of members who come to the parents in private message to share their concerns that the vaccines may have played a role in a death ., "Wrote Cook.

"I do not tolerate violent behavior or tone and encourage decorum during the discussion," Cook wrote, adding that anyone who "deliberately gets involved[s] in the policy of advocating for compulsory vaccination, where children can be further damaged through government mandates of vaccines, retreat and resistance can be expected along with qualified discussions about vaccine risk in social media commentaries. "

Cook said that some of the more than 160,000 members of his group had been targeted by "siege campaigns" and that "the police actually showed up at the door of my members."

He added that he had been threatened and included a screenshot of a private message on Facebook that said, "I finally found where you live, and finally I can put a bullet in you.

Definitely not an anti-vaxer: Some parents reject the recommended vaccine schedule

Another anti-vaccination leader blamed posts on mourning parents' pages about "infiltrators" trying to "create incendiary situations."

"I tell everyone that you should look at the person you are talking to and those on the other side of the discussion and acknowledge that they also care about children," said Del Bigtree, executive director of the Informed Consent Network .

During the public comment period at a meeting last month of the US Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, more than a dozen people talked about their concerns about the vaccines. Some said that they or their loved ones had been injured by vaccines.

"My oldest son suffered documented illness and regression after vaccination," said Jackie Martin-Sebell. "These vaccines are not safe for everyone."

Another speaker, Rilei Cherry, said her son developed autism as a result of vaccines. "We must truly look at the long-term effects of vaccines and be honest about what could happen to our children," she told the CDC committee.

Despite the concerns of the speakers, more than a dozen studies have shown that vaccines do not cause autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics says "vaccines are safe, vaccines are effective, vaccines save lives."
Jill Promoli with her twins, Jude and Thomas McGee. Jude died at the age of two with the flu.

The mothers

On May 6, 2016, Promoli placed his sons Jude and his twin brother Thomas for an afternoon nap at his house. Jude had a low fever, but he was laughing and singing when he went to sleep.

When his mother came to see him two hours later, he was dead. Promoli said the next few weeks were "hell."

"Having to go and plan a funeral and find the ability to somehow take steps to enter a funeral home, make plans and decide to bury or cremate your child – it was all so horrifying," she said.

When an autopsy returned, showing that Jude had died of the flu, Promoli started his flu prevention campaign.

That's when the online attacks started.

Some anti-vaxers said she murdered Jude and concocted a story about the flu to cover up her crime. Others said the vaccines killed their son. Some called it the c-word.

The worst – the ones that sometimes made her cry – were posts that said she was advocating for flu shots so other children would die from the shootings and her parents would be unhappy like her.

"The first time it made me feel very sick, because I could not understand how anyone could come up with such a terrible statement," Promoli said. "That caught me off guard in your cruelty. What kind of person does that?"

The distorted logic that is based on scientific lies does not bother Promoli much more. She continued her campaign against the flu, persuading Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to release her flu vaccine.

"I had to grow a very thick skin," she said.

She said no matter how many nasty messages she has received – and she says she has received hundreds – she will continue her campaign.

"The work we're doing may mean that someone does not have to go and plan a funeral for the child, and that's all," she said.

Other mothers also persevered despite anti-vaxer attacks.

Serese Marotta lost her 5-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu in 2009, and is now chief operating officer of Families Fighting Flu, a group that encourages awareness and prevention of influenza, including vaccination.

In 2017 she posted a video on the eighth anniversary of her son's death to reinforce the importance of the flu vaccine.

"SLUT," one person commented. "PHARMA WHORE".

"May you rot in hell for all the damage you do!" a Facebook user wrote in another of his posts.

She says a Facebook user in Australia sent her a death threat.

"She called me many names that I will not repeat and used the conspiracy theories about government and big pharmacists, and I replied," I lost a child, "and I questioned where it came from, and she continued to attack me" said Marotta, who lives in Syracuse, New York.

Catherine and Greg Hughes, an Australian couple who lost their 1-month-old son, Riley, to pertussis, also received abuse online. Too young to be vaccinated, Riley relied on the collective immunity – the vaccines of others – to protect him.

While his mother held his hand, Riley Hughes was baptized hours before his death.

But herd immunity did not protect it, since the area where the Hughes family lived in Perth has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Australia.

"Riley's death was a very inconvenient truth for anti-vaccine activists," Catherine said. "The unpleasant messages began 24 hours after he died, and they called us baby killers and said we would have the blood of other babies in our hands, and we were told to kill ourselves."

The couple began a vaccination campaign, Light for Riley.

Catherine said that they still receive comments vis years after Riley's death.

"[F**k] you, the Hughes family, "wrote a Facebook user on the Light for Riley page.

"What [f**king] evil bitch you really are, "another user wrote to them in a private message on Facebook.

Another Facebook user was more succinct.

"Please die," the user wrote in a private message.

"Many of them come from the position of having children injured by vaccines," said Catherine. "But a good chunk of them are just haters."

The teacher

Bereaved mums are not the only targets of anti-vaxer abuse.

Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings Law School, has received countless infamous messages and, as with mothers, many of the messages are gender oriented. Over the years, she has become quite blasé about it.

"Whore is very normal," said Reiss, a pro-vaccine advocate who wrote extensively about vaccines. "I was also called [c**t]"

Sometimes Reiss, who is Jewish, gets comments that mention the Holocaust.

A Facebook user made a meme with a picture of his father with "Proud Supporter of the Vaccine Holocaust." Reiss says her father has nothing to do with vaccines.

Another meme shows a photo of Reiss holding her newborn son and says Reiss is "injecting the force" into her baby with vaccinations.

Below the picture it is written, "For a holocaust was not sufficient."

Anti-vaxers & # 39; adult child gets measles; now he has this message to the world

Other Facebook users said their children look sick in pictures and that the vaccines are clearly to blame.

"The boy [sic] It seems lethargic, "one user wrote, with" dark circles under his eyes. These are common precipitants of vaccine-induced immune damage and suppression, as well as transient ischemic adverse event induced by vaccine. "

Of all the various anti-vaxer messages, Reiss said the one that irritated her most was a voicemail left for her husband on her work phone.

"If I hear or see anything written by your wife after today, I will release your phone number, your business phone number, your work address, your business address, your business phone number," the caller said, reciting correctly phone numbers and home address.

The doctors

Three pediatricians who are advocates of vocal vaccines have also been frequent targets of anti-vaxers. All three now have security escorts when they speak publicly.

Facebook to become tougher on anti-vaxers

Dr. Paul Offit keeps a fat paste of nasty messages he received so that "if someone kills me, my wife can hand him over to the police." He does not laugh when he says that.

"Rot in hell, baby killer," wrote a user in an email to Offit, who is director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Go [f**king] kill yourself, "wrote another.

Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is a vaccine researcher who wrote a book about his daughter called "Vaccines Do not Cause Rachel's Autism."

"You have no morals and you know that you are a [f**king] liar. I hope you rot in hell, "an anti-vaxer sent an email to Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and a rector of the National School of Tropical Medicine in Baylor.

Users on the social media platform MeWe discussed a public meeting next Hotez was expected to attend.

"Maybe if we cause enough tension, he will have a heart attack before [Wednesday]"wrote one woman, adding:" #sorrynotsorry ".

Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and a California State Senator, led a successful attempt to get rid of vaccine exemptions for personal or religious reasons for school-age children in his state. He is often targeted by anti-vaxers on Facebook.

He says he has received thousands of hateful messages from anti-vaxers.

"Chinese junk," one wrote on Pan's Facebook page, followed by vomit and devil emoticons. More ignorant [a**hole]"

"I hope they stone you to death," wrote another Facebook user. "I'll take a special trip to cheerfully see your head pop.Fathers of children you're destroying must have a chance.As a Nazi piñata."

Some of the professionals and mothers interviewed for this report said they reported abusive messages they received on Facebook. Most of those reporting did say they received an automated response, and in the end nothing changed. Others said that after they made a report, the sender was suspended from Facebook for a short time, or their offensive messages were removed.

Others said they did not report to Facebook because the process was costly or they heard that it would not change anything.

A Facebook spokesperson responded to these concerns:

"We try to empower our users with controls, such as blocking other users and moderating comments, so they can limit their exposure to unwanted, offensive or offensive content. We also encourage people to report bullying behavior on our platform so we can analyze content and take appropriate action, "the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

"We want members of our community to feel safe and respected on Facebook and remove material that seems to intentionally target particular individuals with the intent to degrade or embarrass them."

The spy

Erin Costello creates fake accounts on Facebook so she can join anti-vaxer groups to see if members are planning to attack mothers of dead children.
Erin Costello, a former waitress and current mother housewife in Utica, New York, is the "Ron" who texted her mother in mourning in the Midwest, prompting her to wait for more anti-vaxer attacks. Costello is an administrator of the pro-vaccine page on Facebook "What's the Harm?"

Costello is one of several vaccine advocates who created so-called "sock puppets" or fake Facebook accounts and then join the anti-vaxer groups to spy on them.

She said she often sees members discussing postings of parents of sick or dead children, sometimes suggesting that members "educate" those parents by posting on their pages.

For example, a member of the anti-vaccine group Stop Mandatory Vaccination said a mother reported that her baby had seizures after receiving the vaccines.

The anti-vaxer asked the others in the group to "comment on her reading! I want to win this mother and she really trusts her pediatrician, but at the same time she's scared!"

Another member of Stop Mandatory Vaccination reaffirmed a post from Catherine Hughes, the mother who lost her son to a preventable vaccine illness, urging others to vaccinate their children.

"Anyone want to talk about this post?" the anti-vaxer wrote.

Another member replied, "I'm sorry for the lost baby and your other children, but someone needs to inject her with vaccines until she dies."

Increased fear of a mother

When she sees anti-vassals talking about parents in their closed groups, Costello, the pro-vaccine online spy, contacts these parents to warn them that they may be receiving nasty anti-vassal messages .

When Costello reached for her mother in the midwest, she explained why she was in contact with her.

"I know you're probably getting a lot of horrible posts on Facebook right now," Costello wrote to his mother. "Children like [yours] are the reason why I do my part to fight for the overwhelming acceptance of vaccines as well as fight the lies and misinformation that are recklessly scattered against vaccines. "

The mother wrote back.

"I appreciate the strong role you play in helping to protect families like mine," she said.

After hundreds of Facebook comments on anti-vaxers, Mom turned off the comments on her page and deleted many of the ones she received.

Some are still in your head, though. She cries when she remembers what was harder to read.

"Those who said this was a false story, that he was not real, that my son did not exist," she said. "Because when your child dies, that's the biggest fear – let him be forgotten."

CNN's Denise Powell contributed to this story.


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