While it can be hard to know what to believe these days, Heather Simpson recognizes she was part of the problem.
“Oh my gosh, it’s so hurtful. The stuff I said is bad," Simpson recalled.
Simpson was an anti-vaccine social media influencer. She admits she spread misinformation, mostly about tetanus and measles vaccines to countless people online.
She showed us this picture of her 2019 Halloween costume. She dressed up as the measles.
"I posted just thinking my friends would think it’s funny," she said.
Simpson says she became vaccine-hesitant two and a half years ago when a friend’s mom said she shouldn’t get a flu shot.
“She called me, and she was like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve seen somebody who got a flu shot and they started walking backward after that, and please don’t get it,’" Simpson said. “And I got it, and nothing happened, but the seed was planted. The ridiculous seed.”
That seed grew into Simpson being against vaccines, and she went on social media to talk about it.
“I got up the big nerve to write this big post as like a coming out as an anti-vaxxer post, but not so extreme as I became," Simpson said. "It just talked about my fears, about vaccines, and my concerns.”
Her first posts about being anti-vaccine got hundreds of shares.
“It just validated my position: ‘Oh my God. People relate to this. There are so many people who are anti-vax. This is a whole community,’" Simpson said.
Simpson says the more aggressive her posts were, the more they spread. And the negative comments she received didn’t stop her.
“I took that as, ‘Oh I have hate, so I'm doing something right,’” Simpson thought.
Rory Smith is with First Draft News, a non-partisan nonprofit group studies how misinformation spreads online.
“People, of course, will trust family members, more so than somebody else, so when you’re part of these group conversations, you will believe kind of consequent that's coming from family members, and unfortunately, oftentimes this information isn't credible or trustworthy at all," said Smith.
He says while social media companies have promised to do more to stop misinformation, you can only take that at face value.
“We have no way of systematically seeing whether they have actually done anything to mitigate the flow of misinformation because they’ve black-boxed all this data and they don’t let anyone look at it," Smith said.
Today, Simpson is reaching for redemption.
“I started switched sides when COVID hit," Simpson said.
She says talking with doctors and going to credible resources for information helped change her stance on vaccines.
“It's kind of a humbling experience to realize that conspiracy theories aren’t real because you are not that special," Simpson said.
She's now using her social media to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Simpson recently received the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
These days, social media may feel like a warzone, but Simpson says when it comes to convincing people to change their minds, the most effective way could be a more peaceful approach.
“Me being an anti-vaxxer, one of the worst I've ever seen just being so boldly stupid, and being able to change is being able to change is just a testimony on how you shouldn’t give up on people," Simpson said. “I think conversation can truly change the kind of wall we’ve hit with anti-vaxxers.”