An anti-vaccine advertisement popped up at a bus stop shelter in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Thursday, Dec. 2, and city officials say someone installed the misinformation poster without authorization.
The sign at the B43 bus stop on Kingston Avenue and Carroll Street lists the “Top ten reasons not to get vaccinated against COVID-19” and includes a website and a contact phone number at the bottom.
A man answering the phone claimed he was not connected to the poster, and told this reporter to reach out to the organization “directly.”
An email to the address listed on the organization’s website was not immediately returned.
The sign is designed to look almost exactly like an ad campaign by the city’s Department of Health and Jewish health groups to encourage vaccinations, which one New York Times reporter spotted in Brooklyn’s Borough park neighborhood.
here is the original, which I caught at a bus stop in Borough Park pic.twitter.com/LntgDshWfV
— Michael Gold (@migold) December 2, 2021
The misleading poster in Crown Heights was first discovered by a local resident who snapped a picture of it and published it on Twitter where it quickly went viral.
“I stopped and turned around when I saw what was on the ad,” said Allison H., who asked that her full name not be published.
She saw other passers-by stopping to read it, which worried her that they would start believing lies about the vaccines.
“This shows how misinformation can make its way in and defeat public health guidance,” she said.
The sign and its shelter is managed by the city’s Department of Transportation through a public-private partnership with billboard company JCDecaux.
DOT spokesman Seth Stein said in a social media post that the ad was not sold by the franchisee and that it is being removed “immediately.”
“Most likely someone popped open the glass. Investigation ongoing,” Stein wrote on Twitter. “Disinformation has no place in our city, or our street furniture.”
A spokesman for JCDecaux said it was an “unauthorized” sign and that the company didn’t get payment for it.
“The creative you are referencing was not installed by JCDecaux but was placed in the bus shelter in an unauthorized manner. JCDecaux did not approve, install or receive payment for the copy,” said Joseph Hodge in an emailed statement. “The copy violates the advertising guidelines for the program and deprived the lawful advertiser of their advertising space. We are replacing it immediately with authorized copy and will replace any other such unauthorized copy that we become aware of.”
A spokesperson for the MTA, which runs the buses but is not responsible for the shelters, said the agency appreciates the city’s removal of the poster.
“Bus shelters are not MTA property and though we would prefer not to have objectionable messages marketed to our customers, we have no power to manage content for these facilities, which are controlled by the City of New York. We appreciate NYC DOT announcing it will remove ads that spread disinformation during a public health crisis,” said Tim Minton in an emailed statement.
The ZIP code of Crown Heights where the bus stop is (11231) has a below-average vaccination rate, at just 60% for at least one dose and 53% of both shots, compared to 77.1% and 69.5% citywide, according to the city’s Health Department.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in preventing severe illness or death from the virus and limiting its spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.