nature, April 2021
In March, Twitter put its foot down: users who repeatedly spread false information about COVID-19 vaccines will have their accounts suspended or shut down. It was a new front in a high-stakes battle over misinformation that could help to determine how many people get vaccinated, and how swiftly the pandemic ends.
The battle is also being fought in computer-science and sociology labs across the United States, where scientists who track the spread of false information on social media honed their skills during the US presidential election last year. They are now shifting focus, from false claims that the election was ‘stolen’ to untruths about COVID-19 vaccines. Some surveys suggest that more than one-fifth of people in the United States are opposed to receiving a vaccine.
Researchers are launching projects to track and tag vaccine misinformation and disinformation on social media, as well as collecting massive amounts of data to understand the ways in which misinformation, political rhetoric and public policies all interact to influence vaccine uptake across the United States.
Scientists have identified a wide variety of disinformation surrounding COVID-19 and vaccines, ranging from conspiracy theories that the pandemic was engineered to control society or boost hospital profits, through to claims that the vaccines are risky and unnecessary.