Imperial Valley Press

‘Died suddenly’ posts twist tragedies to push vaccine lies


Results from 6- yearold Anastasia Weaver’s autopsy may take weeks. But online anti-vaccine activists needed only hours after her funeral this week to baselessly blame the COVID-19 vaccine.

A prolific Twitter account posted Anastasia’s name and smiling dance portrait in a tweet with a syringe emoji. A Facebook user messaged her mother, Jessica Day-Weaver, to call her a “murderer” for having her child vaccinated.

In reality, the Ohio kindergart­ner had experience­d lifelong health problems since her premature birth, including epilepsy, asthma and frequent hospitaliz­ations with respirator­y viruses. “The doctors haven’t given us any informatio­n other than it was due to all of her chronic conditions. ... There was never a thought that it could be from the vaccine,” Day-Weaver said of her daughter’s death.

But those facts didn’t matter online, where Anastasia was swiftly added to a growing list of hundreds of children, teens, athletes and celebritie­s whose unexpected deaths and injuries have been incorrectl­y blamed on COVID-19 shots. Using the hashtag #diedsudden­ly, online conspiracy theorists have flooded social media with news reports, obituaries and GoFundMe pages in recent months, leaving grieving families to wrestle with the lies.

There’s the 37-year-old Brazilian television host who collapsed live on air because of a congenital heart problem. The 18-year-old unvaccinat­ed bull rider who died from a rare disease. The 32-yearold actress who died from bacterial infection complicati­ons.

The use of “died suddenly” — or a misspelled version of it — has surged more than 740% in tweets about vaccines over the past two months compared with the two previous months, the media intelligen­ce firm Zignal Labs found in an analysis conducted for The Associated Press. The phrase’s explosion began with the late November debut of an online “documentar­y” by the same name, giving power to what experts say is a new and damaging shorthand.

“It’s kind of in- group language, kind of a wink wink, nudge nudge,” said Renee DiResta, technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observator­y. “They’re taking something that is a relatively routine way of describing something — people do, in fact, die unexpected­ly — and then by assigning a hashtag to it, they aggregate all of these incidents in one place.”

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