A huge amount of potentially dangerous COVID-19 misinformation is appearing online. Here we use machine learning to quantify COVID-19 content among online opponents of establishment health guidance, in particular vaccinations ("anti-vax"). We find that the anti-vax community is developing a less focused debate around COVID-19 than its counterpart, the pro-vaccination (“pro-vax”) community. However, the anti-vax community exhibits a broader range of “flavors” of COVID-19 topics, and hence can appeal to a broader cross-section of individuals seeking COVID-19 guidance online, e.g. individuals wary of a mandatory fast-tracked COVID-19 vaccine or those seeking alternative remedies.
Distrust in scientific expertise is dangerous. Opposition to vaccination with a future vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the causal agent of COVID-19, for example, could amplify outbreaks as happened for measles in 2019. Homemade remedies and falsehoods are being shared widely on the Internet, as well as dismissals of expert advice. There is a lack of understanding about how this distrust evolves at the system level. Here we provide a map of the contention surrounding vaccines that has emerged from the global pool of around three billion Facebook users. Its core reveals a multi-sided landscape of unprecedented intricacy that involves nearly 100 million individuals partitioned into highly dynamic, interconnected clusters across cities, countries, continents and languages. Although smaller in overall size, anti-vaccination clusters manage to become highly entangled with undecided clusters in the main online network, whereas pro-vaccination clusters are more peripheral.
As concerns about the spread of misinformation have mounted, scholars have found that fact-checks can reduce the extent to which people believe misinformation. Whether this finding extends to social media is unclear. Social media is a high-choice environment in which the cognitive effort required to separate truth from fiction, individuals' penchant for select exposure, and motivated reasoning may render fact checks ineffective. Furthermore, large social media companies have not permitted external researchers to administer experiments on their platforms. To investigate whether fact-checking can rebut misinformation on social media, we administer two experiments using a novel platform designed to closely mimic Facebook's news feed.
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Monday, April 27, 2020 - 1:00pm
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories regarding the origin, scale, prevention and treatment of the disease. This panel discusses how presidential administrations communicate with the public in times of uncertainty and crisis. Former White House Press Secretaries Ari Fleischer and Joe Lockhart provide perspectives from previous administrations. Politifact Editor-in-Chief Angie Holan and IDDP researcher Ethan Porter help us understand the importance of fact-checking false claims coming from presidents and other authority figures.
Monday, February 24, 2020 - 3:00pm
The infrastructure of online media—complex, poorly regulated and constantly evolving—is ripe for exploitation as the United States approaches its 2020 presidential election, journalist Craig Silverman warned Tuesday at the George Washington University.
Sunday, September 22, 2019 - 12:00pm
Technology experts hosted by the George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics (IDDP) said at a panel Sunday that digital behavior has transformative real-world effects requiring careful interdisciplinary study.
A recent study by physicist and Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics affiliate Neil Johnson explores how the views of anti-vaccine groups tend to spread more widely on social media than pro-vaccination views, increasing the chances of reaching people who are undecided on the subject. Professor Johnson’s model predicts continued growth of anti-vaccine sentiment on Facebook and other social networks, which could affect how widely a COVID-19 vaccination is embraced.
Amid the American flags, “Make America Great Again” hats and “freedom is essential” posters appearing at recent protests against coronavirus lockdowns in Sacramento, Calif., another familiar slogan has materialized: “We do not consent.” It’s long been a popular rallying cry among antivaccine activists, who claim without evidence that vaccines cause autism or other conditions. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, those activists have become intertwined with demonstrators who want businesses to reopen despite public health experts’ warnings.