Russian trolls ‘spreading discord’ over vaccine safety online

The good news is that there are fewer Americans think vaccination is a government conspiracy than your social media stream makes it appear that there are. The bad news is that somewhere out there is an organization that believes it will benefit from you believing that more people doubt vaccinations than really do.

“The vast majority of Americans believe vaccines are safe and effective, but looking at Twitter gives the impression that there is a lot of debate,” said David Broniatowski, an assistant professor in George Washington’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“It turns out that many anti-vaccine tweets come from accounts whose provenance is unclear. These might be bots, human users or ‘cyborgs’ – hacked accounts that are sometimes taken over by bots. Although it’s impossible to know exactly how many tweets were generated by bots and trolls, our findings suggest that a significant portion of the online discourse about vaccines may be generated by malicious actors with a range of hidden agendas.”

Russian trolls appeared to link vaccination to controversial issues in the US. Their vaccine-related content made appeals to God, or argued about race, class and animal welfare, researchers said. Often, the tweets targeted the legitimacy of the US government.

“Did you know there was secret government database of #Vaccine-damaged child? #VaccinateUS,” read one Russian troll tweet. Another said: “#VaccinateUS You can’t fix stupidity. Let them die from measles, and I’m for #vaccination!” —Guardian