Yesterday Ethan Lindenberger testified before a Senate Committee about vaccine misinformation. The teen became a national star after he defied his mother’s wishes and got fully vaccinated. While the appearance before the government should have been a proud moment for his mother, Jill Wheeler is less than thrilled that her son’s story is a media sensation.
During his testimony, Ethan was articulate, well versed, and straight forward about how misinformation that his mother found online played into her anti-vaccination position.
In Ethan’s opening statement, he shared that he grew up with a mother that believed vaccines caused autism, brain damage, and other health-related issues. Through online groups and social media, he said his mother reinforced her opinions on vaccines.
As he grew older, he credited critical thinking as the reason for changing his mind on vaccines. Instead of trusting his mother’s belief on immunizations, Ethan read scientific journals, The World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control websites to learn about vaccines. As a result, he realized that vaccines did not cause autism or lead to health issues.
Armed with data, statistics, and information from trusted sources, he tried to show his mother, Jill, that her beliefs were not correct. Rather than embracing the information presented by her son, Jill argued with him and discounted his sources.
Ethan was clear in his testimony that his mother’s desire not to vaccinate her children came from a place of love. However, he said that misinformation online completely brainwashed her about the dangers of vaccines. Because of the mass amounts of misleading content online, he impressed upon the Senate that changes need to be made.
Despite Ethan’s mother’s wishes, he became fully vaccinated late last year. He made the appointment without his mother’s knowledge. When his mother found out about his appointment, she was not happy.
While Ethan’s story has been widely publicized, his mother Jill’s story has been less visible. Prior to his testimony before the Senate, Fox8 in Ohio sat down to speak with her.
Jill told the reporter that she does not agree with her son’s choice to be vaccinated. She seemed irritated that the Senate would interview a child that had no “education” about vaccines.
“Ethan has had no education at all in this, none! Again, he was asking three months ago where to go to get vaccinated and now he’s sitting on a committee voicing his opinion for research he’s done on the Internet?”
She did say that she was proud of her son, but did not agree with his decision. In another interview, Jill sat down with Robert Scott Bell who is an internet conspiracy theorist that pushes an anti-vaccine agenda. The video is uploaded on YouTube and gives more insight to her line of thinking.
During the interview, Jill was candid about her choice to not vaccinate her son. She explained that she began her research about vaccines after having her second child. For more than a decade, Jill says she has researched, read books, and advocated against vaccines.
When Ethan began reading about vaccines, she told him that the CDC does not provide all the facts. She rattled on about the conspiracy belief that the government withholds information from citizens in order to push an agenda.
Additionally, she feels the media is using her son’s story to influence other children to go against their parents’ wishes. She believes that Ethan is wrong about vaccines and is fearful he may “never turn back” to her anti-vax views.Jill has clearly fallen down the rabbit hole of misinformation. In the interview, she was unable to provide any scientific data that supported her position. Instead, she used words like “I Feel” or “I believe” when she spoke about vaccines.
There is no doubt that she loves her children, but she has absolutely taken the position that a conspiracy exists about vaccines. Once someone falls into the conspiracy mindset it can be difficult to change their position.
Amazingly, Jill raised a child that managed to sift through the propaganda that engulfed his home. Ethan credits his time in the high school debate club in helping him learn to research both sides of an argument.
Ethan’s testimony before the Senate was pretty impressive considering the fact that he’s a senior in high school. He sat on a panel with doctors and experts associated with vaccines, and he held his own.
Misinformation online continues to play a massive role in spreading fear about vaccines. For years social media platforms have remained relatively unregulated. That freedom has created a place where conspiracy theories become mainstream.
What remains unknown is if the committee will act on the information they obtained from the hearing.
Will the government step up and regulate Facebook and other platforms?
How do we stop charlatans from using social media from profiting off the misinformation they spread?
Will more children start realizing their parents are wrong about vaccines?
If Ethan can change his mind, there is hope for all children to make informed decisions about vaccines. Sadly, his mother’s opinion is set in stone.
*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.
She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.
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