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Home / Health / Russian trolls and Twitter bots exploit vaccine controversy

Russian trolls and Twitter bots exploit vaccine controversy




A nurse is preparing to administer measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Children's Primary Care Clinic in Minneapolis. (Courtney Perry to the Washington Post)

Health experts who fought dangerous misinformation about vaccine safety have a new enemy: Twitter bots and Russian trolls.

Researchers found that bots and Russian trolls called vaccines more often than the average Twitter account over a three-year period, but for a variety of reasons. Russian trolls fueled the debate by chanting pro and anti-vaccine news to sow the split, while bots that spread malicious software seemed to use anti-vaccine news, which is unleashing strong reactions from both sides.

Apparently, only the elite gets "clean" # vaccines. And what can we get, normal people ?! #VaccinateUS, "a Russian troll account tweeted in one of the messages that attracted researchers because of the unusual line between vaccination anxiety and income inequality.

" This is not what one would expect of an anti-Marxist, "said David Broniatowski, an engineer at the George Washington University, which led the research published in the American Journal of Public Health. "Elites Receive Clean Vaccines – We thought this was unique to the Russian trolls and could be interpreted as an attempt to link the vaccine to a particular fission in one the American society.

The trolls were users associated with a Russian propaganda campaign by the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, and identified by researchers on a Twitter list of congresses further refined by NBC Twitter bots were identified by bot repositories and included a spambots span that is clearly non-human and "content polluters" who are spreading malware or attempting to cheat people.

Twitter accounts appeared between 2014 and 2017 As Russian trolls were identified, 22 times more likely to have vaccines than the average user, the tweets fell on both sides of the vaccine debate and seemed to sow discord by reinforcing the debate – although the vast majority of Americans believe vaccines benefit Their tweets also seem to outweigh their risks with other divisions within the US Society, such as class and racial divisions.

But these did not seem to be anti-Vaxx reports that triggered an attack on American public health through design; Only one of 550 tweets of Russian trolls touched vaccines, the researchers found.

These trolls can flit between divisive topics. Renee DiResta studying computer propaganda with the grassroots collective Data for Democracy, said that her own research indicates that Russian trolls have focused on the vaccine debate in order not to trigger a public health crisis, but to exploit their spread ,

A series of tweets that she discovered, for example, in September 2017, combines the rejection of vaccines with racist fears: "Experts call for white genocide, as most vaccine deniers are white," several Russian trolls tweeted , 19659011] "It's opportunism – to expand controversial issues opportunistically," said DiResta.

It attracted a Russian bot called @WadeHarriot, which jumped between different topics – anti-gay, pro-ted cruz, anti-obama or pro-trump until early 2017, it began to spit anti-vaccine ideas , Only 38 of this user's 6,000 tweets involved vaccines. They began at exactly the time when the issue surfaced in the general news cycle, as vaccine critic Robert Kennedy Jr. announced that President Trump had asked him to lead a new commission on vaccines. This commission never originated.

Bots that focused on "content contamination" – circulating malicious software – were more likely to talk about vaccine damage and suggested that they could try to use a high-profile topic to get people to link up However, red-eye malicious spam that asks for a password may be clicked and accidentally downloaded or sent to a fraudulent Web site. Red-of-the-mill spambots that are clearly not human, however, talked less about vaccines than average users

Researchers could not explain to what extent this flow of information influenced people's behavior or contributed to general anti-vaccine sentiment.

Their work proposes a cautionary note about the best way to fight misinformation Attempting to stimulate debate and directly combat it could pose the risk of "feeding the trolls," Broniatowski said, and polluted social media angry messages that reinforce the discussion and give the false impression that the pages are evenly distributed.

Public health officials tend to focus on education to fight anti-vaccine news, but since these contents are not always coming from real people, the tech companies are trying to weed out bots and accounts that their platforms abuse could be another powerful tool.

The vast majority of vaccine tweets analyzed in the study came from users who could not be clearly categorized as Humans, Cyborgs or Bots using the Botometer tool. "These actors could be people who really believe that vaccines are dangerous, trolls trying to exploit the controversial issue to deepen the divisions in American society, or bots that use controversy as clickbait."

In response to the The study reported on Twitter's details of this work, pointing to a blog post that described its efforts to develop tools that can automatically identify "spam or automated accounts." In May, the company said it required more than 9.9 million such accounts per week, and the company also takes steps to ensure that automated content can not be detected by general users.

Jon-Patrick Allem, a researcher at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California It said that it will be necessary to understand how or if this is an online v get affected by real people – and that much of the research on public health messages in social media is still stuck in the first phase of quantifying the problem.

"The research that I have showed you – and many of them are currently in the works – that the Russia-sponsored reports were aimed at creating discord about very specific and highly differentiated issues in American culture," Allem said ,

But the risk of false information is not just from foreign governments. Everyone has noticed that social bots are much more likely to spread messages that they use e-cigarettes to stop smoking than real accounts – though there is no convincing evidence that they help smokers quit. He also worries that bots might leak false information for a variety of interests, perhaps misinformation about how effective drugs are or how to boost supplements and vitamins.

"It's hard to identify the puppeteer behind Social Bots," said Allem] Read more:

The moral differences between pro and anti-vaccine parents

Children in these higher risk US hotspots Because Parents Disable Vaccinations

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