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An Ohio teenager testified before Congress on Tuesday about choosing to get vaccinated at 18 despite his mother’s scientifically unfounded claim that immunizations have been linked to autism, BuzzFeed News reports.
Ethan Lindenberger is one of many children of anti-vaxxer parents who have sought online assistance once they began to doubt their parent’s beliefs. He gained national attention last month when he turned to Reddit to figure out how to catch up on his vaccinations.
Lindenberger told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions that after consulting research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization on vaccinations, he began to see them as a “medical miracle” instead of the government conspiracy theory his mother preached.
He attributed the anti-vax campaign’s growing momentum to mothers’ fears and attempts to protect their children. Like many others, Lindenberger said his mother used social media and online groups to talk with like-minded parents, cementing her anti-vax conclusions.
“For my mother, her love, affection, and care of a parent was used to push an agenda and create false distress,” he said, according to BuzzFeed News.
It wasn’t until he began learning how to research credible information in his high school’s debate club that he began to doubt her views. When he approached her with his findings backed by both the U.S. government and the scientific community, she responded, “That’s what they want you to think.”
He turned to Reddit to figure out how to proceed, where users even offered to provide funds for his vaccinations via GoFundMe or PayPal. “They were supporting me on a decision my mom freaked out about,” Lindenberger told the Daily Dot last month.
Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, told the Undark that her son’s actions were “like him spitting on me, saying, ‘You don’t know anything, I don’t trust you with anything.'”
In his conclusion to Congress, Lindenberger called anti-vax beliefs “deeply rooted in misinformation.” Online sources spreading false information about immunizations should a top priority, he said, which should be tackled with “concern of education and addressing misinformation properly.”
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H/T BuzzFeed News
Alyse Stanley is a video game and culture reporter based in Virginia with words at Polygon and USGamer. When she’s not writing about memes, she edits Unwinnable’s monthly magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @pithyalyse.