Kremlin Behind Anti-Vaccine Disinformation Campaign As Measles Cases Explode

Kremlin / Public Domain

Russian trolls and social media bots used vaccines as a "wedge issue", spreading pro- and anti-vaccine information.

A new study examining the behaviors of social media bots and Russian trolls has found that accounts seeking to influence the U.S. election were also spreading disinformation about vaccines, according to BBC News.

Many posted both pro- and anti-vaccination messages to create "false equivalency", the study found.

It examined thousands of tweets sent between 2014 and 2017.

Vaccination was being used by trolls and sophisticated bots as a "wedge issue", said Mark Dredze from Johns Hopkins University.

"By playing both sides, they erode public trust in vaccination, exposing us all to the risk of infectious diseases," he said.

At the same time, the World Health Organization warned earlier this month that cases of measles have skyrocketed in Europe, which experts believe is a direct result of more people foregoing vaccinations.

The BBC also noted that vaccination rates among U.S. school children are on the decline as well, as the number of people seeking religious or philosophical exemptions is on the rise.

While a majority of Americans believed vaccines were safe and effective, looking at Twitter gave a different impression and suggested that there was a lot of debate about the issue, the disinformation study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, said.

"A significant portion of the online discourse about vaccines may be generated by malicious actors with a range of hidden agendas," said David Broniatowski from George Washington University.

The researchers reviewed more than 250 tweets about vaccination from accounts linked to the St Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA). In February the agency was named in a US indictment over alleged election meddling.

Read the full report here.