Why Fights Over The COVID-19 Vaccine Are Everywhere On Facebook

IIf you took a look at the Vaccines Exposed Facebook group, it seemed clear what it was about. It was “an anti-lethal vaccination group” of over 13,000 members on a platform known to contain conspiracy theories against vaccination. Some of his followers’ recent posts included a video falsely claiming that the COVID-19 vaccine was killing people and one claiming that children “injected” cancer. #Facts. “Standard Anti-Vaxx tariff.

It was so compelling that Facebook removed the group on Friday for violating the site’s community standards. But Vaccines Exposed was really a “honeypot” group led by vaccine advocates to get the attention of anti-Vaxxers and people on the fence. When these people published something promoting the anti-Vaxx cause, Pro-Vaxx members responded and tried to convince them to question their beliefs. It wasn’t always a smooth exchange.

“There are people in this community whose sole aim is education,” said David Litton, a pro-vaccine member who used a fake account to attend Vaccines Exposed and is a podcaster and Twitch stream host who reported conspiracy theories online. “Then there’s a spectrum between that and people who are just trying to get involved with anti-Vaxxers because they’re stupid.”

In response to this video falsely claiming that the COVID-19 vaccine was killing people, one member asked why we don’t see this in thousands of study participants and another asked why the original poster trusted people with no scientific background about Experts, while still another asked, referring to the original poster, “Why do we allow these people to breed?”

These skirmishes between pro and anti-vaccine users are not just limited to exposed vaccines. Facebook is a battlefield. And while these confrontations aren’t unique to Facebook – the Anti-Vaxx movement is so old as vaccines themselves – the site has created an ecosystem that deliberately or not allows this struggle to thrive. And during the social media giant has made efforts It was not enough to stop the battle for hearts and minds to contain the spread of misinformation. Now that the American public is waging the largest vaccination campaign in half a century, this fight is all the more relevant.


T.The recently green-lit COVID-19 vaccines represent our best chance to end the pandemic. Therefore, it is especially dangerous when the American public spends time arguing about a fundamental fact: vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary for public health. While the new COVID-19 vaccines do not have the benefit of decades of research demonstrating their safety and effectiveness like other vaccines, many of the widespread reports of the COVID-19 vaccines stem from existing anti-Vaxx beliefs that have been debunked. It is true that researcher I’m not entirely sure when the vaccines stop people from spreading the virus, but we know for example that mRNA vaccines don’t change your dna. The latter is an anti-Vaxx belief so widespread that it led a Wisconsin pharmacist allegedly tampered with with vial of vaccine.

The pre-existing conflict between anti-Vaxxers and pro-Vaxxers has now penetrated the much broader discussions about the COVID-19 vaccine on Facebook, according to Facebook a November report from First Draft News, a non-profit organization that researches newsrooms and reports on misinformation and disinformation. (FiveThirtyEight has partnered with First Draft in the past.)

“Our research shows how seamlessly old narratives can be used in new contexts,” said Rory Smith, research manager at First Draft and co-author of the report. “When the demand for information on a topic is high but the supply of credible information is low, there is a data deficit that quickly becomes filled with misinformation.”

The researchers found that familiar tropes about vaccines, like the idea that they are unnecessary and just a way for big drug companies to make money, were also applied to the COVID-19 vaccine. But COVID-19 is of course a much more debated topic. Many online conversations about vaccines are now specifically about the COVID-19 vaccine, so anti-Vaxx narratives can reach audiences they may not otherwise encounter. In fact, leaked audio recordings from anti-Vaxx leaders, first noticed in a report The UK-based Center to Combat Digital Hate shows that it has a strategy to use this very scenario – fear and confusion about the new COVID-19 vaccines – to bring misinformation to a wider audience.

Data from CrowdTangle, a social media tracking tool, reveals examples of anti-Vaxx ideas fed into COVID-19 vaccine conversations on Facebook, including in otherwise unrelated areas. On a recent search for the word “vaccine” on Facebook groups, I was able to find dozens of examples of discussion in unrelated groups, many of which inevitably had anti-Vaxx misinformation in the comment sections.

Part of the reason the anti-Vaxx movement has done so well on Facebook is because it’s controversial and controversy helps make Facebook a lot of money. In 2019 98 percent of Facebook’s sales came from advertising – A total of $ 20 billion. Facebook’s advertising is so valuable because it can be Microtargeted, based on the data Facebook collects about its users. To collect more and better data (and expose users to more ads), Facebook needs to be active and engaged: like posts, share links, join groups, and comment. One surefire way to keep people busy is to expose them to content that evokes an emotional response, such as: a post that claims The vaccine you are about to give your toddler will cause them to develop autism.

“What we saw on Reddit was that conflict and controversy got the most attention,” said Ellen Pao, former Reddit CEO and Silicon Valley veterinarian who now runs Project Inclusive, a nonprofit diversity advisory organization. “These networks are rewarded for their commitment. And when people get heated over something, they either stay to get involved or to watch. “

A Wall Street Journal investigation Last year it was found out how teams within Facebook tasked with addressing the website’s disinformation crisis cited the platform’s design as the cause of the problem. A 2018 internal company presentation included slides in which Facebook’s algorithms “harness the human brain’s attraction for cleavage,” and, if left unchanged, “keep popping divisive content in an effort to grab user attention and the Extend time on the platform. ”

At a congressional hearing in September, Facebook’s former monetization director said: Tim Kendall made similar observations.

“Social media chases the primal parts of your brain. The algorithm maximizes your attention by repeatedly hitting you with content that arouses your strongest emotions – it’s meant to provoke, shock and anger, ”said Kendall in his opening speech. “It’s not a coincidence. It’s an algorithmically optimized game book to maximize user attention – and generate profits. “

More recently, Facebook has made public statements and made efforts to target the spread of anti-Vaxx misinformation.

“We strive to reach as many people as possible with accurate information about vaccines Partnerships with the WHO started and UNICEF to do just that, ”said Andrea Vallone, spokeswoman for Facebook. “We banned ads that discourage people from getting vaccines and reduced the number of people who see WHO and CDC-verified vaccine frauds.” We also flag sites and groups that repeatedly share vaccine hoaxes, lower all their posts in the news feed, and recommend them to no one. “

Still, misinformation finds a way. “You can do these shutdowns, but that didn’t necessarily stop the flow of misinformation, and we can’t forget the long tail of misinformation,” said Smith of First Draft. “There are all of these hundreds of thousands or millions of posts that may not get that much interaction, but together add up to a lot of misinformation.”



A typical post in the Facebook group What’s happening in Aurora, IL? collects a handful of reactions. It is an 81,000 member community group dedicated to the events in Aurora, Illinois. Posts often resemble classified ads: someone looking for bakers in the area to bake a cake, someone posting a job posting, someone selling used maternity clothes. But A recent post features the first local healthcare worker To get the COVID-19 vaccine, more than 1,200 reactions and nearly 900 comments were made, including this one:

Why Fights Over The COVID-19 Vaccine Are Everywhere On Facebook 1

Anti-Vaxx theories were prominent among the responses, suggesting the vaccine is dangerous and questions the speed at which it was made. Both doubts were common themes that First Draft had identified in its report. This is just one example of anti-Vaxx beliefs drifting into otherwise neutral areas on Facebook.

They are the same claims that Pro-Vaxx proponents have struggled with for years. But the battles don’t all play out equally. In a private Facebook group called Vaccine Talk, nearly 50,000 pro-Vaxxers, anti-Vaxxers, and people on the fence are urged to have a carefully controlled, civil, and evidence-based dialogue – although even in this group there are some anti-Vaxx and on- Vaxxer. Members of the fence told me that they felt attacked or condescending by pro-vaccine members. CICADA. (stands for Community Immunity Champions and Defenders Association) meanwhile, uses pro-vaccine users to comment on sections crowded with anti-Vaxxers.

To take this facebook post from a children’s hospital in Rochester, New York, showing one of its doctors receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The post attracted anti-Vaxx comments, such as people questioning the ingredients of the vaccine (in reality, The ingredients are minimal(general and safe) and claiming doctors only advocate vaccination to make money (profits are not the motivation to recommend the COVID-19 vaccine). A C.I.C.A.D.A. Member of the group that sends up a torch and says the hospital’s social media team is overwhelmed. Now the post is flooded with messages of support, photos of other health care workers who have been shot, and praise for the example that buries the anti-Vaxx comments and attacks.

“Support doesn’t necessarily mean dealing with the anti-vaccine people. In fact, we encourage people not to,” said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a law professor specializing in vaccination law at UC Hastings College of the Law and a member of CICADA “It can mean you come in and make positive comments. [The group is] to prevent people from being intimidated not to publish vaccines. “

Vaccines Exposed, the honeypot group, took a more radical approach, luring anti-Vaxxers into a seemingly safe space to pull the curtain back on a less personable crowd. An administrator, who asked not to be named, told me she hoped the group could expose those curious about anti-Vaxx about the shortcomings in many of the vaccination claims. However, group interactions were not always constructive. Pro-Vaxxers sometimes mocked or mocked the anti-Vaxx posters.

Group member Litton defended the more combative method, noting that the people he is associated with avoid explicit trolling (e.g., doxxing or threatening) and that humor – even at someone’s expense – is an effective strategy in fighting May be misinformation.

However, according to Rachel Alter, a research partner on the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the honeypot group is unlikely to convince Anti-Vaxxers.

“If your goal is to change people’s minds, you don’t want to start cheating on them right away,” said Alter. “People won’t stay long enough. They’ll see what’s going on and go defensive or go.”

Research on how people Beliefs in shape and change suggest that a gentler approach is more effective. People tend to view attacks on their beliefs as attacks on them personally, and we are all prejudiced against information that challenges our existing worldview. Asking questions, sharing stories, and lowering the temperature by avoiding insults can make people more prone to new ideas, according to Karin Tamerius, a former political psychologist who founded Smart Politics. a program that trains people about how to have productive conversations with people they disagree with. Tamerius built her program on existing research on beliefs and beliefs, saying that changing views is a long, difficult process that a single Facebook interaction is unlikely to happen.

This is ultimately the problem. Best intentions and science-backed strategies are great, but the battle continues to spread because Facebook is designed for that.

Industry researchers believe Facebook could make further efforts to lessen the impact of the anti-Vaxx movement on the website. Last year, the non-profit research group Ranking Digital Rights published a report on how algorithmically driven advertising structures have exacerbated the disinformation epidemic by increasing its spread, and recommended social media websites are trying to change these systems rather than moderating content in order to contain the spread. People will always post nonsense on the internet. The platforms we use don’t have to be designed to lead people there.

And despite Facebook’s best efforts, many users are still exposed to misinformation right at the point when they need to be well informed.

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