As 465 new cases of measles in 2019 have already surpassed the total number of cases in 2018, public health officials and state lawmakers are in a frenzy trying to combat the public health epidemic. But, as Foreign Policy reports, there's a new player in the game: Russian bots and trolls.
A Russian campaign is spreading misinformation and hesitation among Americans considering to vaccinate their children. And it highlights an even bigger issue, too—the Kremlin's goal of breeding conflict and mistrust among all Americans regardless of political party.
A new study from George Washington University professor David Broniatowski and colleagues concluded that thousands of Russian accounts are being employed to spread misinformation about vaccines. The researchers analyzed almost 2 million tweets between 2014 and 2017, finding that Russian troll users were more likely to discuss vaccination than other users. They used the issue, which has been the subject of an increasing number of debates in recent years, to ignite social discord and erode public trust in reputable health institutions.
In one tweet, a Russian account wrote, "#vaccines are a parent’s choice. Choice of a color of a little coffin #VaccinateUS.” Another tweeted, “Did you know there was a secret government database of #vaccine-damaged children? #VaccinateUS.”
Accounts also tweeted on the opposing side as well. “Do you still treat your kids with leaves? No? And why don’t you #vaccinate them? Its medicine! #VaccinateUS,," one Russian-backed tweet read.
The researchers suggested that Russia presented the "illusion of a grassroots debate" to ramp up fear and conflict.