Facebook removes page of ex-UCD professor over Covid misinformation

Dolores Cahill’s page had more than 130,000 followers

 Dolores Cahill ceased her employment as a UCD professor  at the start of this academic year amid increasing controversy about her public remarks on Covid-19 and vaccinations. Photograph: The Irish Times

Dolores Cahill ceased her employment as a UCD professor at the start of this academic year amid increasing controversy about her public remarks on Covid-19 and vaccinations. Photograph: The Irish Times

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Facebook has removed the page of Dolores Cahill, a former UCD professor and prominent anti-vaccination activist.

The page, which had more than 130,000 followers, was removed by the social media giant as part of its “aggressive steps to fight harmful Covid-19 misinformation on our platforms,” said a spokeswoman for Meta, Facebook’s parent company.

Another page, which appears to be linked to Ms Cahill and has a much smaller following, is still active.

Over the course of the pandemic Ms Cahill has become one of the most prominent purveyors of Covid-19 misinformation both in Ireland and internationally.

The academic has a history of making outlandish claims relating to the pandemic which are not supported by evidence, including that facemasks lower the IQ of children.

She ceased her employment as a UCD professor in the field of proteomics in UCD at the start of this academic year amid increasing controversy about her public remarks on Covid-19 and vaccinations. She had applied for retirement some months previously.

The university had faced repeated calls to take action against the academic but said that the principle of academic independence prevented it from doing so.

Last month she was fined £2,500 by a London court for holding an anti-lockdown protest in “flagrant breach” of Covid restrictions.

Research from the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) in October found that a network founded by Ms Cahill on Facebook almost doubled in reach this year, despite pledges by Facebook to tackle pandemic-related misinformation.

The network, known as the World Doctors Alliance (WDA), is made up of 12 academics and doctors, including three who have been struck off or suspended.

At the start of the pandemic, its members were being followed by only 3,500 people on Facebook. By July 1st, 2021, that figure had grown to 460,179. The group was founded as an offshoot of another conspiracy theory group, the World Freedom Alliance, of which Ms Cahill is President.

Facebook has faced sustained criticism for not taking enough action against Covid-19 misinformation on the platform, including from Frances Haugen, a former employee turned whistleblower, who recently released thousands of pages of damning documents detailing the company’s internal workings.

On Monday, a Meta spokeswoman said that since the pandemic began it “has removed over 16 million pieces of content from Facebook and Instagram containing harmful Covid-19 misinformation and have taken down groups and pages for repeatedly sharing this material.

“This includes Dolores Cahill’s Facebook Page. We’ve also added warning labels to more than 167 million pieces of additional Covid-19 content thanks to our network of fact-checking partners.”

Ms Cahill has been asked for comment.