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Researchers say 12 people responsible for most vaccine misinformation online

covid misinformation
Posted at 3:00 PM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-02 17:09:55-04

As the delta variant continues to spread, experts say vaccine rates are not keeping up.

It has taken a month for the number of fully vaccinated Americans to get from 47% to almost 49.8% after vaccination rates rose dramatically in the first few months of its availability, and experts think much of that can be attributed to misinformation about the vaccine that has spread online.

The nonprofit called the Center for Countering Digital Hate did a recent study that found 65% of vaccine misinformation on social media sites came from 12 influencers they dubbed as the “disinformation dozen.”

After analyzing more than 815,000 Facebook posts, the group found that on Facebook alone the “disinformation dozen” was responsible for 73% of posts purporting conspiracy theories about the vaccine.

Together, the 12 people have a group following of more than 59 million people.

“They’ve got a lot of sway and a lot of pull because that is how those kinds of ecosystems are set up,” said Dr. Sam Jay, a communications studies professor at Metro State University in Denver. “Convenience is such a good word. It’s easier for us to find those shortcuts [to information]. It’s easier to find someone who does the thinking for us, and so, that’s why we’ve glommed onto these 12 folks because, again, they have credibility. Those are names that we recognize.”

Among the 12 people are a physician that embraces pseudoscience, a chiropractor, a wellness blogger, and a religious speaker, among others.

The CDC, and nearly every other scientific institution, has championed the vaccine as safe and effective. Even some governors of conservative states where vaccination rates are lower have changed their tune and started supporting it as well. But there is a stickiness to negative information that Jay says makes it more popular and viral than true information.

“We kind of need to rethink how we’re doing this because at that 30,000-foot level, the vaccine messaging just doesn’t work,” said Jay. “Evolutionarily, and as animals, that negative [information] sticks, it lasts. Those messages, they circulate faster, and I think it’s very hard for us to kind of break that cycle.”

Jay says there needs to be a change in dialogue, with more face-to-face conversation where emotion can be felt and a change in thinking that maybe the science is not lying.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has a more hands-on approach, suggesting in its study that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube completely remove these 12 people from their platforms, saying they are influencing people with misinformation at a pivotal point in the pandemic.