Russian trolls 'eroded public consensus' on vaccination, says report

A new study found several accounts, which belonged to the same Russian trolls who interfered in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, tweeted pro- and anti-vaccination messages about 22 times more than average users over a three-year period (The Guardian).

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The report, entitled “Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate” and published in the American Journal of Public Health, concluded this “create[d] false equivalency, eroding public consensus on vaccination.”

The research examined roughly 1.7 million vaccine-relevant conversations on Twitter from July 2014 to September 2017 (APHA) and over 250 tweets about vaccination from accounts linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency.

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Researchers noted that unlike other tweets in the vaccine debate, Russian trolls linked vaccinations to U.S. political issues, such as race, God and animal welfare (The Guardian). One tweet read: “Did you know there was secret government database of #Vaccine-damaged child? #VaccinateUS”

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In February 2018 the U.S. indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, including the Internet Research Agency, on charges of violating criminal laws with the intent to interfere “with U.S. elections and political processes.” (Full indictment below.) The organization backed Russian intervention in Ukraine and advocated for President-elect Trump, according to a 2017 report (Full report below) by the United States Intelligence Community.

The report concluded: “Whereas bots that spread malware and unsolicited content disseminated antivaccine messages, Russian trolls promoted discord. Accounts masquerading as legitimate users create false equivalency, eroding public consensus on vaccination.”

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Full indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in February 2018:

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Full U.S. Intelligence Community report from 2017.

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