Fear grows that vaccine misinformation will be worse than election disinformation

Forty percent of Americans have said they 'definitely' or 'probably' will not get a vaccine for coronavirus.

Before the United States can reach “herd immunity,” it will take two-thirds of the population to be inoculated with a coronavirus vaccine. That means nearly 250 million people.

So far, just over 2 million American people have received their first dose of a vaccine.

The rapid speed of coronavirus vaccines’ development is adding to the equally-fast spread of misinformation about them on social media. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

There is a long, long way to go in the fight to beat COVID-19 and the effort to vaccinate Americans against it. Yet, actual misinformation about the vaccines themselves is of growing concern to many experts as false rumors continue to spread.

According to a new report from Politico, “social media companies are trying to keep up, but in many ways, they’re already behind, given the monumental task of combating misinformation about a massive, first-of-its-kind public health campaign.”

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The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been fast-tracked through Operation Warp Speed, however, the speed of their development is adding to the spread of misinformation.

“Distrust of vaccines has increased with loud voices using the platforms to spread fear,” House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff told the site. He noted that he is encouraging the incoming Joe Biden administration to identify an expert to fight the online rumors.

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Forty percent of Americans have said they “definitely” or “probably” will not get the vaccine, according to new research from Pew Research Center.

Anti-vaccination belief is not new to Americans or social media, however, in a crisis that has killed more than 315,000 people, it is urgent.

One expert has noted that QAnon is a strong source of misinformation.

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“QAnon at its core is an anti-government conspiracy — and we are existing in a time where communication with governments is extremely important, particularly for public health — so you have QAnon turning its attention to vaccinations,” said Melanie Smith, head of analysis at the social media analytics firm Graphika.

“Trust in public health institutions is historically low in a lot of countries,” Smith said, “particularly Western democracies who are leading the vaccine rollout.”

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Social media companies are working to combat inaccuracy. Both Facebook and Twitter will be adding labels to potentially misleading posts, and YouTube began banning videos earlier this year after expanding its misinformation rules.

Schiff is calling on social media companies to be aggressive in fighting online lies.

“Absent a fundamental overhaul,” he says, “enforcement will always be stuck playing catch-up in a system designed to promote the most engaging content and not the most truthful.”

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