So it turns out that the proliferation of Russian Twitter bots around the 2016 presidential election wasn’t limited to just political stuff. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that Russian bots have also been involved in promoting misinformation and controversy surrounding vaccinations in the United States.
A list of Russian bot accounts put together by NBC News was analyzed by the study researchers, who found that, in general, the accounts were “significantly more likely to tweet about vaccination than are average Twitter users.” A lot of people arguing on Twitter about vaccinations probably have no idea that the trolls they’re arguing with are actually bots.
The bots were not all against vaccinations, however—they were found to be pro- and anti-vaccination in approximately equal proportion. The authors of the study told NBC News, “These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society.” That’s kind of terrifying, yeah?
The tweets having to do with vaccinations were only a small part of all the tweets sent out by the accounts identified as bots, but the study does go to show that the Russians campaign of disinformation was not limited to politics.
Just to be clear, while the debate over vaccinations continues to rage on, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention absolutely recommend vaccinations and consider them to be safe and beneficial.
The newly released study comes at a time when people are worried that Russia will try to mess with the 2018 midterm elections the way they did with the 2016 presidential election. Not to be all “yikes” but, um, “yikes!” This news is not great.
h/t The Hill