Upper Hutt City Council says it has received 80 per cent support for its decision not to require vaccine passes at its facilities, based on feedback from Facebook.
Last week the council announced people would not need to show a vaccine pass to use council facilities like swimming pools and libraries.
The decision is an outlier for the Wellington region with all other councils – Wellington, Porirua, Lower Hutt and Kāpiti Coast – all requiring vaccine passes for people to use the facilities.
Chief executive Peter Kelly said community feedback has been mixed and the council will review its decision on December 16 – but said "sentiment tracking" showed support for the decision, referring the Herald to a social media post.
The post in question was indeed inundated with supportive comments – but it is not immediately clear whether these people actually live and pay rates in the Upper Hutt region, or had simply stumbled across the post.
Peppered in with the comments supporting the decision was misinformation – a rising issue on social media in the age of Covid.
Facebook has been criticised for its willingness to allow disinformation and misinformation on its sites and throughout the Delta outbreak research shows this has grown to a "tipping point".
Analysis of Facebook data by the Herald on Sunday reveals that a cluster of New Zealand-based accounts that are harshly critical of Covid vaccines and public health restrictions added tens of thousands of followers since the outbreak began in August, generating high rates of shares and comments and racking up millions of video views.
In just a few months, the accounts have built a highly engaged audience that appears receptive to misleading and false claims about the safety and effectiveness of the Covid vaccines.
When the Herald checked where Upper Hutt Council's post had been shared, a Facebook group that publicises details of anti-vaccination businesses was listed.
In follow-up questions to Kelly, he said the council continues to hear from community and staff daily.
"[We] will be taking a paper to Council summarising this next week. That information will be publicly available on Friday."
Despite support on Facebook, some councillors are unhappy with the decision. Councillor Dylan Bentley told the Herald he "remains concerned" about the lack of vaccine passes.
"Many residents have reached out to me to share their concerns for their loved ones, and will now stay away from those facilities."
He said he is concerned for the safety of the community – particularly people who can't be vaccinated.
"For now, I encourage those who can get vaccinated to get vaccinated."