Russia is at it again alongside social media bots. The two are now spreading false information about vaccines via Twitter to create a social discord and distribute malware according to US researchers.
Specific troll accounts that have found to tried to influence the US election is now tweeting about vaccines according to a study.
A variety of posts from these trolls were both for and against vaccination messages to create a false equivalency.
The study examined thousands of tweets between the years 2014 and 2017.
Trolls and sophisticated social media bots used vaccination as a wedge issue according to Mark Dredze from Johns Hopkins University.
In playing both sides, they diminish the public trust in vaccinations. This can expose everyone to the risk of infectious diseases.
Previously in the month, the World Health Organization reported cases of measles had hit a record high in Europe. Experts blame the surge of infections on the diminishing number of people who are taking vaccinations.
In the United States, the number of children not receiving their immunizations due to either philosophical or religious reasons are rising according to research published last June.
Social Media Bots and Russian Troll farm Tactics
Even though the majority of Americans believe vaccines are safe and effective, a glance at Twitter seems to say otherwise. It suggests there is much debate about the issue according to a disinformation study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
A significant portion of online discourse relating to vaccines is possibly generated by malicious actors with a variety of hidden agendas.
The research reviewed over 250 tweets relating to vaccinations from accounts previously linked to the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency.
The IRA uses polarising language in tweets and linked vaccinations to controversial statements including race, class, and government legitimacy.
One tweet that cast doubt on vaccines the study researched said there was a secret government database of vaccine-damaged children.
Another one that was pro-vaccination said stupidity can’t be fixed and said the unvaccinated should learn their lesson by dying from measles.
Bot accounts in the meantime, distributed malware, disruptive materials, and unsolicited commercial content. They shared anti-vaccination messages more frequently than average Twitter users. They used these as bait to make people click on malicious website links.
Facebook and Twitter recently mentioned their removal or suspension of accounts linked to Iran and Russia due to inauthentic or manipulating behavior. In July alone, Twitter reported shutting down around 70 million fake or suspicious accounts.
Health Cost of the Debate on Vaccinations
Even with the overwhelming and indisputably advocation of science in favor of immunizations, more and more parents around the world are refusing to vaccinate themselves or their children.
Some say their decision was based on a discredited research 20 years ago. This research incorrectly linked measles, mumps, and even rubella vaccines to autism.
However, health officials say the increase of people with measles has increased due to the fall in vaccinations.
Europe has seen over 41,000 infections of measles in the first half of 2018. This is nearly double the number in all of last year which lead to 37 deaths.
The Italian upper house of parliament voted to abolish laws that make vaccinations mandatory for children before they begin school. The amendment means parents of unvaccinated children will no longer face fines.