‘Disinformation Dozen’ Test Facebook’s, Twitter’s Ability To Curb Vaccine Hoaxes : NPR

The majority of anti-vaccine claims on social media come from a small number of influential people, according to researchers. Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images Hide caption

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Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images

The majority of anti-vaccine claims on social media come from a small number of influential people, according to researchers.

Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images

Researchers have found that just 12 people are responsible for the majority of the misleading claims and lies about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

“The ‘Disinformation Dozen’ produces 65% of the anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” ​​said Imran Ahmed, executive director of the Center for Combating Digital Hate, who identified the accounts.

For some anti-vaccine proponents, misinformation is part of a business

Now that the vaccine rollout has reached a critical stage where most adults who want the vaccine have received it but many others can stand it, these 12 influential social media users are going to have an overwhelming impact on the outcome.

These numbers are known to both researchers and social networks. Some of them run multiple accounts on the different platforms. They often promote “natural health”. Some even Sell ​​supplements and books.

Much of the news about the spread of Covid-19 vaccines on the internet mirrors what traders have said in the past about other vaccines health misinformation.

“It’s almost like the Mad Libs conspiracy theory. You just put in the new allegations,” said John Gregory, assistant health editor at NewsGuard, who evaluates the credibility of news sites and himself tracks COVID and vaccine misinformation “Superspreader.”

The claims of the Disinformation Dozen range from “denying the existence of COVID, claiming that false cures are actually the solution to COVID and not vaccination, to deciphering vaccines and deciphering doctors as being in some way venal or through other factors motivate them in recommending vaccines “. Ahmed said.

'The Perfect Storm': How Vaccine Misinformation Spread To The Mainstream

Many of the 12, he says, have been spreading scientifically refuted medical claims and conspiracies for years.

Which begs the question: why have social media platforms only recently started fighting their lies?

Both congressmen and attorneys general have urged Facebook and Twitter to ban the disinformation dozen.

“Vaccinating Americans is critical to putting this pandemic behind us. The spread of vaccine disinformation online has deadly consequences. That’s why I urged social media platforms to crack down on the accounts that spread most of these lies.” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. D-Minn. Said NPR.

Social networks take action against COVID vaccine claims

Companies stopped taking all 12 numbers completely offline, but they did intensified their struggle: You have flagged misleading posts. You have removed falsehoods. In some cases, they have banned people who repeatedly share debunked claims.

Facebook Extends Ban on COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation to Build Confidence

Facebook says it has taken action against some of the numbers identified by CCDH, some of which have multiple accounts on their apps. This includes permanently removing 11 accounts from Facebook or Instagram and imposing restrictions on 19 others, e.g. B. Preventing them from being recommended to other users, reducing the reach of their posts, and blocking them from promoting themselves through paid ads.

“We responded early and aggressively to the COVID-19 pandemic by working with health professionals to update our misinformation guidelines to dispel harmful allegations about COVID-19 and vaccines, including taking action against some of those in the CCDH report included reports, “said spokesman Kevin McAlister in a statement. “In total, we removed more than 16 million pieces of content that violated our guidelines, and we continue to work with healthcare professionals to regularly update these guidelines as new facts and trends emerge.”

However, Facebook also denied the methodology of the CCDH report, saying it was not clear what criteria the group used to select the social media posts it considered.

According to Twitter, two of the Disinformation Dozen accounts have been permanently banned for repeatedly breaking their rules. Other accounts have had to delete some tweets and put up labels referring to credible information about vaccines that do not allow the tweets to be shared or replied to. In total, more than 22,400 tweets were removed for violating the COVID guidelines.

However, spokeswoman Elizabeth Busby said Twitter distinguishes between “harmful vaccine misinformation that contradicts credible public health information that is prohibited under our policy and negative vaccine sentiment that is a matter of opinion”.

And so, the disinformation dozen are still easy to find on social media.

“Proven” tactics

Sometimes they circumvent the platform’s rules with the help of codes.

“Instead of saying ‘vaccine’, in a video they could hold up the V-mark with their fingers and say, ‘If you’re around someone who – hold up the V-mark – you know, you could X. happen, “said Ahmed.

Or they take something true and distort itlike mistakenly linking the death of a famous person to the fact that they had received a vaccine days or weeks earlier.

Few facts, millions of clicks: fearful vaccine stories go viral online

NewsGuard’s Gregory said one “time-tested” tactic used by vaccine opponents is to “grossly misrepresent some type of research, some type of data, in order to further the narrative they choose.”

Facebook says it is now limiting the reach of posts that could prevent people from getting vaccinated, even if the messages didn’t explicitly break the rules.

But the game of cat and mouse continues.

Anti-vaccine activists are calling for censorship

While the social networks have taken hold, some previously prolific vaccine misinformation spreaders have toned down their posts, telling their followers that they are being censored.

Anatomy of a COVID-19 conspiracy theory

Take anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who advocated the long-discredited idea that vaccines are linked to autism. During the pandemic, he linked unsubstantiated conspiracy theories 5G cellular networks on coronavirus, suggesting with no evidence that the death of great baseball player Hank Aaron was “part of a wave of suspicious deaths” linked to vaccines.

None of this is true.

Kennedy was Instagram started, who owns Facebook, in February for repeatedly sharing debunked claims.

However, Facebook has not removed him from its platform of the same name. He told NPR that the company had marked some of his posts, which is why he had become more cautious.

“I have to post unicorns and cat pictures there,” he said. “I don’t want to apologize to you.”

He also uses it to promote his website and newsletter, where he claims he can’t be on the social network.

Kennedy said he never posted misinformation and accused Facebook of censorship. He says it cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in donations to his organization.

A fight of conviction

Although social media companies have grown tougher recently due to misinformation, researchers fear the survival of vaccine-related vaccines will further undermine the confidence of people who are reluctant to get the shot.

This is of particular concern when vaccines are introduced Children from 12 years.

CDC says children 12 and over should receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

In a survey of US parents, Indiana University sociologist Jessica Calarco found that more than a quarter have no plans to vaccinate their children.

“So many of these mothers are turning to Facebook, turning to Twitter, turning to other social media platforms,” ​​for news and information, she said. “And they say, ‘Every time I open my phone, I see something different.'”

Even some parents whose children received routine childhood vaccinations told Calarco they are not sure about COVID shocks.

Facebook this week published survey data Adult vaccine acceptance in the US has increased 10 percent since January. However, the survey also shows that the top reasons people say they don’t want to be vaccinated are concerns about side effects and lack of trust in the vaccines or the government – exactly the kind of fears that anti-vaccination accounts encourage .

The social networks say augmenting credible information from authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is as important as reducing the spread of harmful spots. Both Facebook and Twitter link to public health information in their apps and in the labels they put on misleading posts.

But they are now facing an uphill battle to convince the skeptics.

Calarco says many of the parents she spoke to weigh the posts they see on social media “alike against the kind of medical expert recommendations and medical expert information from things like the CDC”.

Editor’s note: Facebook is one of NPR’s financial backers.


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