As a frontline doctor, mother, and Instagram creator, Dr. Michelle Rockwell uses her platform to share tips and research about new motherhood and Covid-19 with her 27,000 followers. Rockwell, who lives in Oklahoma, also shares details about her personal life, including the miscarriage she suffered in December, her Covid-19 diagnosis days later, and the Covid vaccine she was given just before Christmas. 

As she often does, Rockwell included resources and information with these posts to help combat conspiracies and fear surrounding medical and other issues. But none of that prevented her Instagram posts from being taken out of context and used for fake-news posts on Facebook and other platforms.

According to Rockwell, who discovered the posts when a follower sent her a screenshot of one of them, the posts used images from her Instagram and falsely claimed that the mother of two miscarried after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. In reality, she miscarried three weeks before getting the shot.

Rockwell’s Instagram post about the spread of these lies went viral, receiving over 10,000 likes and comments of support from people like NBC reporter Simone Boyce and former Bachelor contestant Ashley Spivey. (Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment.)

“In today's climate I think it's really important for moms to have a trusted source of information,” Rockwell tells me in a phone call. “I think being a physician adds that confidence as well. My passion is really in guiding moms through that first year of motherhood and everything that they can expect—and then, of course, talking about controversial topics like vaccines is very important, too. for people to get accurate information.”

While Rockwell has had some success in getting the offending posts—which she tells me included Facebook comments, Instagram posts, and tweets—taken down, this is just one battle in the growing war against medical misinformation online. Here Rockwell elaborates on her experience and her mission to provide fact-based resources and information for her audience.

When did you notice your vaccine selfie had been misappropriated?

One of my followers actually posted it on my Facebook page to bring it to my attention two days ago. There was another physician that this also happened to, and it was posted in the comments there and then went viral from that. Then of course I went trying to search for all of the original sources, which is really hard because once people start sharing that stuff on social media, it's almost impossible to reign it in because you have to search out every single reshare.

How did you feel when you saw it?

It broke my heart because whoever made this, they're preying on the vulnerability of women and fears that women have about their unborn children or future pregnancies to advance their anti-vax agenda. And I absolutely understand that people are vaccine hesitant or have questions about the vaccine because it is so new and that's absolutely reasonable, but to twist someone else's story to instill fear in a population to me is absolutely not okay. 

Did you engage with the post or flag it in any way?

I reported everyone that I saw to Facebook. Some of their responses were that it did not violate community guidelines, which I'm kind of shocked by because they're using my likeness in a false representation. I did also contact some people who shared it directly. For the most part, they were willing to take it down after realizing that it was false information. So I was actually really happy about that. But I know for a lot of people in these situations, that's not the case.

What were those conversations like with people who shared it?

People tend to be defensive at first, of course, but I think if you engage in a way where you're actually trying to understand the other person and where they're coming from, you often get better results. And so I try to not attack anybody and just say, “Hey, this was false information. This is the true story. If you want to go check out, please just go look at my page.” One girl in particular was very sweet about it and apologized. And then some others were not as nice. 

Why did you decide to go public about it?

It's my responsibility to educate people. And by using my specific example, I think I could inspire other people to do the same or encourage them to be more mindful of what they're sharing on social media, because it does get spread so fast. My whole platform is about educating women and educating people in general, and I think it was important to use this as an opportunity to teach people what they should be looking for in posts that they may be suspicious of not [having] accurate information.

What has the reaction been like?

It's been so crazy. I've never had a post with this many likes and shares and so many women reaching out to me in my DMs just offering hopeful messages. That's what this community is all about, or it's what it should be all about. It's coming together and helping one another get through tough times and helping spread good information.

The influencer community has a problem with misinformation, especially around wellness issues. How often do you come up against it?

Every day. I think there are several aspects to this. One is people make money off of wellness. People make money off of their diet plans, off their supplements. So of course, they're going to say whatever they want to make more sales. 

I do think that there is a sense of fear and I do think a lot of people are frustrated, specifically right now. It is a scary time and there is a lot going on so I absolutely understand people's fears. It's one thing to be wary of something and to do actual true research, and to look at the facts and look at the goals that we're trying to achieve here specifically with the Covid vaccine. We want our lives to get back to normal. Our ultimate goal is to have a healthy society, but I think there's just so much misinformation that's spread and it makes people so scared … I worry that we're not going to get there.