Scientists at George Washington University accidentally uncovered evidence that Russian trolls have been purposefully using vaccines as a dividing issue to "sow discord" before and during the last Presidential election. Turns out that passionately anti-vax friend you know on Facebook might be more like your chaos-inciting komrade.
Researchers were working on an attempt to improve social media communication and connection for public health workers. As they worked, they discovered a minefield of trolls and bots saturating and often derailing conversations. These accounts are known to belong to the same Russian trolls who interfered with the election. Interestingly, they also found malware programs and bots involved.
Being researchers, they did what they do best and turned the discovery into a study. The findings were pretty shocking. These trolls were purposefully weaponizing the issue of vaccination.
In a paper titled Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate, researchers explain how they found the trolls, and how these trolls went about purposefully riling up divisive debates by playing both sides of the issue against one another. They found that the trolls tweeted about vaccination over TWENTY TIMES MORE OFTEN THAN LEGITIMATE USERS. The trolls even went so far as to try getting a hashtag trend going. Researchers found that almost every tweet related to #VaccinateUS originated from one of these Russian trolls. They were also very active using the hashtags #Vaxxed and #CDCWhistleBlower
One of the researchers had this to say about it:
"These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society. By playing both sides, they erode public trust in vaccination, exposing us all to the risk of infectious diseases. Viruses don't respect national boundaries."
Twitter ... um ... is mad.
@DearAuntCrabby Randy Ruskie has always been a conspiracy theorist. The vax hysteria is a narrative that Russian trolls have been pushing.— 45’s IQ Test Was Negative (@45’s IQ Test Was Negative)1535245383.0
@bpopken And I believe the Russians have been stoking these fears off and on for fifty + years... make us vulnerabl… https://t.co/TF35pjiEf2— Mark R. Jacobson (@Mark R. Jacobson)1535116950.0
@drg1985 "Russian trolls played both sides, the researchers said, tweeting pro- and anti-vaccine content in a polit… https://t.co/VNuF33V02r— Feminineisrising (@Feminineisrising)1535120827.0
@bpopken Here’s the recent NPR story on an old conspiracy theory spread by the Russians in the mid-80s. Remember th… https://t.co/140dPbLovt— Ro Laren 2018 GeeksResist🌊🚀🏳️🌈 (@Ro Laren 2018 GeeksResist🌊🚀🏳️🌈)1535084652.0
@drg1985 Not just a Wedge issue. They also hoped to cause Epidemics of Mumps, Measles and other childhood diseases… https://t.co/NsUjVr3KKR— corky phillips (@corky phillips)1535154562.0
@bpopken @_elizbieber I watched soldiers coming back the Gulf War have babies with hands where their elbows should… https://t.co/oWA0tnUBOd— Annie Tolliver (@Annie Tolliver)1535122065.0
@BuzzFeedNews @richarddeitsch So Russia is just looking to divide us. They couldn’t have dreamt up a better tool than twitter.— JoeCap (@JoeCap)1535062940.0
@NYTHealth 😂 https://t.co/ysLoQiAcq9— aspiesmom (@aspiesmom)1535187978.0
You can read the paper for yourself here.