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Misinformation on social media fuels doubts about vaccines

Skepticism about vaccines is a serious threat to global health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The term skepticism, in this case, is used to refer to the delay in the acceptance or rejection of vaccines, despite their availability. This attitude constitutes a serious risk for people who do not get vaccinated, as well as for the community in general. It is not a new phenomenon. Since the origin of vaccinations, there have been skeptics. Shortly after Edward Jenner invented the smallpox vaccine in 1796, rumors began to spread that cow heads would grow out of the bodies of people who received the vaccine, but the problem is particularly acute now due to efforts to end Covid-19 pandemic Preliminary results from four clinical trials of vaccines suggest that they are very effective in preventing COVID-19 infection, but the mere existence of vaccines is not enough. People need to accept vaccines and get enough vaccinations to interrupt the transmission of infection. A recent survey shows that a substantial part of the public may refuse to be vaccinated or delay the decision to receive it. It’s important to understand why. Social media has spread a lot of misinformation against vaccines in the last 20 years. We recently evaluated the effect of social media on worldwide vaccine skepticism, and we saw that in countries where social media is used to organize offline actions, more people tend to believe that vaccines are not safe. We also found that external online disinformation campaigns are associated with a drop in vaccination coverage over time and with an increase in negative discussion about vaccines on the networks. The delays and the rejection of vaccination against covid -19, or any other vaccine-preventable disease, would prevent the coverage thresholds necessary for herd immunity from being reached. Community transmission of Covid-19 would continue and, with it, the pandemic. Research Design We measured the use of social media in two ways. First, we evaluate the use of social media platforms by the public to organize any kind of political action. Second, we measured the level of negative targeting discourse about vaccines on social media using all the geocoded tweets in the world between 2018 and 2019. The geocoded tweets report where they are broadcast from based on contextual clues or the geoposition of the device. We also measured the level of coordinated externally sourced disinformation (i.e. intentional misinformation) on each country’s social media using indicators from the Digital Society Project.The intentional push for anti-vaccination propaganda has been attributed to Russian-affiliated pseudo-state actors such as part of efforts to break trust in experts and authorities in the Western world We measured vaccine skepticism using the percentage of people in each country who feel vaccines are unsafe, using the Wellcome Global Monitor indicators of 137 countries. We also used annual vaccination coverage data from the World Health Organization in 166 countries. Our purpose was to assess whether social media and external misinformation are associated with greater vaccine skepticism and actual levels of vaccination. Numerous studies from Specific countries and populations have found that anti-vaccination propaganda increases skepticism about vaccines. Our study aimed to quantify this effect worldwide. Results We discovered that the use of social networks to organize face-to-face actions is strongly associated with the perception that vaccines are not safe. This perception increases as the level of organization in social networks increases. Additionally, external misinformation online is strongly associated with an increase in negative discussion about vaccines on social media and a decrease in vaccination coverage over time. We use a five-point scale to quantify false information that it is broadcast in a specific country. It ranges from “never or almost never” to “very often.” A one point upward shift on this scale was associated with a 15% increase in negative tweets about vaccines and a two percentage point decrease in average vaccination coverage year-over-year. Social media allows easy public communication massive. This makes it easy to widely share fringe opinions and misinformation. Since any opinion can be presented as fact, it is more difficult for people to be well informed. The truth is lost in the noise. It is difficult to know if something is an established fact. Creating doubt is particularly damaging when it comes to vaccination, because uncertainty raises doubts. Skepticism of vaccines has led to many of the measles outbreaks in Europe and North America between 2018 and 2020. In 2003, widespread rumors about the polio vaccine heightened doubts in Nigeria. This led to a boycott of polio vaccination in some parts of the country. The result was that polio cases in the country increased fivefold between 2003 and 2006. The boycott also contributed to polio epidemics on three continents. Recommendations Our study suggests that tackling vaccine misinformation on social media is critical to reversing the rise in skepticism around the world. These findings are especially important in the context of the current pandemic, since COVID-19 vaccines will require global distribution to reach millions of people. Policymakers must start planning now for the best formulas to combat the patterns found in this study. Research shows that outreach and public education on the importance of vaccination will not be enough to ensure optimal distribution of covid vaccines. -19. Governments should hold social media companies accountable by requiring them to remove fake anti-vaccine content, regardless of its source. The key to countering misinformation on the internet is for social media platforms to take it upon themselves to remove it. Arguing against disinformation paradoxically reinforces it by helping to legitimize it.This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original. The signatories are not salaried, or consultants, nor do they own shares, nor do they receive funding from any company or organization that can benefit from this article, and they have declared that they lack relevant links beyond the academic position cited above.

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