Saturday December 14, 2019

Vaccine Doubts Spread Across Social Media Like Disease, Should be Taken Down: Vaccine Chief

"We have to think about it as a disease. This is a disease," Berkley said. "This spreads at the speed of light, literally"

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measles epidemic
FILE - A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S. VOA

Doubts about vaccines have spread across social media like a disease and false information that “kills people” should be taken down by the companies running digital platforms, the head of global vaccine alliance Gavi said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a U.S.-sponsored event on the sidelines of the World Health Organization’s annual assembly in Geneva, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said there was a strong scientific consensus about the safety of vaccines.

But social media algorithms favored sensational content over scientific facts, rapidly convincing people who had never seen family members die from preventable illness.

“We have to think about it as a disease. This is a disease,” Berkley said. “This spreads at the speed of light, literally.”

vaccine
“A study says @Autism is out of control — a 78% increase in 10 years. Stop giving monstrous combined vaccinations,” Trump tweeted in 2012. Pixabay

WHO says poor vaccination coverage is causing measles outbreaks globally, with numbers spiking in countries that were previously almost free of the disease, including the United States.

Misinformation about vaccines, which the WHO says save two million lives annually, was not a freedom of speech issue and social media firms need to take it offline, Berkley said. “I remind people that this kills people,” he said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said complacency, misunderstanding and misinformation were causing vaccination rates to decline globally, with tragic results.

“In my country, social media conspiracy groups confuse well-meaning parents so they hesitate to get the recommended vaccinations,” Azar said.

He rejected any criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump, who repeatedly and erroneously tweeted about links between vaccines and autism in the years before he became president.

“A study says @Autism is out of control — a 78% increase in 10 years. Stop giving monstrous combined vaccinations,” Trump tweeted in 2012.

vaccine
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said health authorities needed to “up our game,” adding that she was working with Twitter, Facebook, Google and other tech companies. Pixabay

Azar said Trump was “extremely firm” in support of vaccination.

“If you had been paying attention in the last month, you would know that the President of the United States, President Trump, was very clear and emphatic: get your shots, get your kids vaccinated, vaccines are safe,” Azar said.

ALSO READ: WHO to Strengthen Strategies to Combat Ebola Epidemic in Congo

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said health authorities needed to “up our game,” adding that she was working with Twitter, Facebook, Google and other tech companies.

“You’ve got to get into the trenches … and begin to get engaged much more on a personal and emotional level, because people don’t understand statistics and data. If you do that. (VOA)

Next Story

Governments Around The World are Learning to Confuse Dissidents on Social Media

The researchers, who published their findings in a recent issue of Political Science Research and Methods, specifically examined social media from both the Venezuela regime and its opposition

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Social Media
The regime also seemed to develop a more sophisticated approach to using hashtags on Social Media. The regime used long hashtags, as opposed to the shorter hashtags that are more commonly used, to promote distraction among the protest groups. Pixabay

Governments the world over are learning new tactics to quash dissent on various Social Media platforms, responding with tweets designed to distract and confuse like longer hashtags, according to a team of political scientists.

In a study of Twitter interactions during Venezuela’s 2014 protests, in which citizens voiced opposition to government leaders and called for improvements to their standard of living, the tweets of the protesters focused mainly on the protest itself, while the tweets issued by the ruling regime covered more diverse topics.

This could mean that regimes are growing more savvy in their use of social media to help suppress mass movements.

“When we started doing this study there had been a lot of optimism about the capacity of social media to produce revolutions throughout the world, like Arab Spring and the Color Revolutions in Europe,” said Kevin Munger, assistant professor of political science and social data analytics, Penn State.

“But it seems like, in hindsight, this was the result of short-term disequilibrium between the capacity of the masses to use this technology and the limited capacity of these elites to use it.”

A lot of these elites may have not been keeping up with modern communication technology and got caught unawares.

So, for that short period of time, social media did produce better outcomes for revolutions and mass movements.

The researchers, who published their findings in a recent issue of Political Science Research and Methods, specifically examined social media from both the Venezuela regime and its opposition.

Social Media
Governments the world over are learning new tactics to quash dissent on various Social Media platforms, responding with tweets designed to distract and confuse like longer hashtags, according to a team of political scientists. Pixabay

Following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in early 2013, Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s vice-president, won a special election.

After his election, mass protests erupted related to economic decline and increased crime.

In their analysis, the researchers noted that the regime abruptly shifted its Twitter strategy after protests swept across the country.

The topics of the regime’s tweets became even more diverse than usual — including such topics as a tree-planting event — and often did not address the protests at all.

As the protests continued, however, the researchers said that the opposition also became less focused, which the researchers suggest may have been a reaction to the regime’s social media strategy.

The way that attention works on social networks offers a glimpse into why the strategy to distract citizens might be effective, added Munger, who worked on the study while a doctoral student in politics at New York University.

Social Media
Regimes are growing more savvy in their use of Social Media to help suppress mass movements. Pixabay

“To have effective protests, you need to have a ton of people coordinated on a single message, so spreading other narratives disrupts that process of coordination,” said Munger.

“Being able to spread doubt is effective. You don’t have to get people to love your regime, you just need people to less convinced of the single narrative.”

ALSO READ: President of Egypt Calls for Collective Action Against Countries Supporting Terrorism

The regime also seemed to develop a more sophisticated approach to using hashtags. The regime used long hashtags, as opposed to the shorter hashtags that are more commonly used, to promote distraction among the protest groups. (IANS)