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posted by martyb on Friday May 15 2020, @10:11PM   Printer-friendly
from the thought-you-were-reading-El-Reg-for-a-moment? dept.

Jennifer Ouellette over at Ars Technica is reporting on new research on "how distrust in health expertise spreads through social networks."

The article, published on 13 May, in the journal Nature compares network relationships within both pro and anti vaccination groups on Facebook. From the Ars piece:

Last year, the United States reported the greatest number of measles cases since 1992. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 1,282 individual cases of measles in 31 states in 2019, and the majority were among people who were not vaccinated against measles. It was yet another example of how the proliferation of anti-vaccine messaging has put public health at risk, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only intensifying the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

But there may be hope: researchers have developed a "map" of how distrust in health expertise spreads through social networks, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature. Such a map could help public health advocates better target their messaging efforts.

[...] [Lead author]Johnson and his colleagues analyzed Facebook communities actively posting about the topic of vaccines during the 2019 measles outbreak—more than 100 million users in all—from around the world, mapping out the interconnected networks of information across cities, countries, continents, and languages. There were three main camps: communities that were pro-vaccine, communities that were anti-vaccine, and communities that were neutral or undecided regarding the topic (groups focused on parenting, for instance).

The researchers then tracked how the various communities interacted with each other to create a detailed map of the networks. "It's not geographic, it's to do with closeness in a social network sense—in terms of information, influence," Johnson told Ars. "It's not whether I'm here and someone's in Australia. It's the fact that someone in Australia agrees with my slightly twisted narrative on COVID-19 and I'm getting their feed. Although my neighbor doesn't understand me, the person in Australia does.

[...] The results were surprisingly counter-intuitive. While there were fewer individual people who were anti-vaccine on Facebook, there were almost three times as many anti-vax communities clustered around Facebook groups and pages. So any pro-vaccine groups seeking to counter the anti-vaccine misinformation often targeted larger communities and missed the small- to medium-sized clusters growing rapidly just under their radar, according to Johnson.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the spread of misinformation has gotten even worse. "We didn't stop the day we submitted this paper," said Johnson. "We've been monitoring every day, every minute, the conversations and what you see in these Facebook pages, in these clusters, these communities. It's gone into hyper drive since COVID-19." He and his colleagues developed a predictive model for the spread, which showed anti-vaccine sentiment dominating public discourse on the topic within a decade. Furthermore, "that was a worst-case scenario if nothing was done as of December 2019, when we submitted the paper," said Johnson. "Now it's amplified. If we did that same study now, I think it would be a lot faster than ten years because of the COVID-19 situation. It's the perfect storm."

[...] A new study [Abstract. Preprint PDF available for download] published in the journal BMJ Global Health bolsters Johnson et al.'s findings. Scientists at the University of Ottawa in Canada searched YouTube for the most widely viewed videos in English relating to COVID-19. They narrowed it down to 69 videos with more than 247 million views between them and then assessed the quality of the videos and the reliability of the information presented in each using a system developed specifically for public health emergencies.

The majority of the videos (72.5 percent) presented only factual information. The bad news is that 27.5 percent, or one in four, contained misleading or inaccurate information, such as believing pharmaceutical companies were sitting on a cure and refusing to sell it; incorrect public health recommendations; racist content; and outright conspiracy theories. Those videos—which mostly came from entertainment news, network, and Internet news sources—accounted for about a quarter of the total views (roughly 62 million views). The videos that scored the highest in terms of accuracy, quality, and usefulness for the public, by contrast, didn't rack up nearly as many views.

DOI: Nature, 2020. 10.1038/s41586-020-2281-1
DOI: BMJ Global Health, 2020. 10.1136/bmjgh-2020-002604 [Full paper here, gratis]


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 17 2020, @02:12AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 17 2020, @02:12AM (#995214)

    Really? A Pulp Fiction reference [uberquotes.net]? Well done, other AC!