Vaccine misinformation hotbed OpenVAERS is one of the leading sources of bad info about COVID vaccines on the internet, and an investigation finds that it’s run by some woman in the Oakland-surrounded suburb of Piedmont with too much time on her hands.
If you’ve ever argued with a Covidiot over vaccines, and whether they are the secret killer poison of some coming totalitarian regime, the Covidiot’s stream-of-consciousness word salad will likely cite that the vaccines have already killed thousands of people. That data comes from a professional looking, but thoroughly wackadoodle website called OpenVAERS, a site whose data will tell you the the COVID-19 vaccines have currently killed more than 12,000 people, hospitalized another 46,000, caused nearly 1,400 miscarriages, and gave another 7,500 people shingles.
This is, of course, all horseshit. But the fact that the site serves up such generous amounts of unverified horseshit has made it a darling of right-wing media and Facebook crazy uncles. And Vice reports on an investigation of who’s behind that website, conducted by the artificial intelligence research firm Logically, that found “Lizabeth Pearl Willner, also known as Liz Willner, of Oakland, California, is behind the website OpenVAERS.”
Vice adds that “Logically researchers were first able to identify Willner as the administrator of the site through WHOIS records before uncovering her social media accounts that were used to amplify the OpenVAERS site.”
Willner has suddenly shut down her Facebook account, though an example of her stylings on that platform can be seen above. She remains active on Twitter as @1pissedoffmom1, an account which Logically also traced to her. We would embed a tweet, but her settings will not allow this, so the screenshot below will give you some idea of what she’s been up to on that platform.
And she’s built quite an audience. OpenVAERS scrapes data from the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a real and well-intentioned government database where individuals can report any headaches or dizziness they’ve experienced from the vaccine. Trolls, of course, are spamming that site with all sorts of false claims. Willner’s OpenVAERS site selectively picks out the troll posts, and presents them without context to argue that the medical community is pulling a deadly fast one, from which only Substackers and Youtubers who don’t have two undergraduate medical credits to rub together can save us.
The “red box” alerts showing quack data are a huge hit on social media, and OpenVAERS now gets vastly better traffic than the CDC’s VAERS website from which it scrapes. “Although the site is less than a year old, more than 1.23 million people have visited the site in the past six months, with a substantial increase since July,” Logically found. “Our research shows that 30 percent of OpenVAERS referral traffic comes from Gateway Pundit, a far-right website that often publishes fake news and conspiracy theories.”
In these eight or nine months since the COVID vaccines arrived, even the left-leaning Bay Area has seen cadres of anti-vaxxers and Covidiots. But it is surprising to learn that we are part of the machine creating more vaccine resistance. The government will not be able to shut this lady's website down. But Piedmont Avenue shoppers, we’d recommend keeping a six-foot distance if you see her out whilst out shopping for organic groceries, consignment artwork, or holistic veterinary services.
Related: Anti-Vaxxers Storm Marin Meeting, Tear Off Masks [SFist]
Image: Facebook via Vice