A new report explains that conspiracy theories play a prominent role on the internet, particularly when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines.
Conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 vaccines are prominent on social media and could leave a lasting impression in the future of vaccines and medicine. A new report from First Draft, a non-profit that aims to fight mis- and disinformation online, explains that false data reaches a large audience and will likely create distrust in medicine.
“When people can’t easily access reliable information around vaccines and when mistrust in actors and institutions related to vaccines is high, misinformation narratives rush in to fill the vacuum,” reveals First Draft. “We have reached a pivotal and hypersensitive crossroads where increasing rates of vaccine skepticism may not only jeopardize the effectiveness of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, but that of vaccines more broadly.”
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Researchers collected over 14 million posts from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for a period of three months starting mid-June, when conversations about a vaccine increased in volume. They selected posts with words like “vaccine” and “vaccinations” in English, French and Spanish, whittling them down until they were left with the 1,200 most viral posts.
The report states that the narrative surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is full of “data deficits,” meaning that there’s high demand for information but a low supply of credible sources. The two topics that drove the majority of online conversations were “political and economic motives” and the “safety, efficacy and necessity” of the vaccine. Instagram and unverified posts from Facebook appeared to be the main drivers of conversation, accounting for 71% of these interactions.
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“Conspiracy theories about vaccines in general and the COVID-19 vaccine specifically play an outsized role on social media, particularly in Francophone spaces. More posts linked vaccines to conspiracy theories than moral issues and religious and civil liberties concerns combined. And these conspiracy theories were not limited to fringe groups,” researchers conclude.
With the current political and social climate it’s valid to assume that if and when a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, a considerable number of people will mistrust and oppose it. This event will be controversial, likely to result in an influx of erroneous misinformation and mistrust in government and health programs.