Search This Blog

Friday, August 24, 2018

Russians Have Long Spread Antivax Disinformation

In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.

Rhys Blakely at The Times of London:
Kremlin-sponsored social media accounts have promoted discredited theories about the MMR jab as part of an effort to sow doubt in the West over the safety of vaccines.
Russian government "trolls" voiced support for a film made by Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who was struck off after falsely claiming that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism.
Particular concern surrounds the so-called Wakefield cohort - young people whose parents failed to get them vaccinated as children after false claims by Mr Wakefield. The doctor was struck off by the General Medical Council in 2010 when it ruled that he had acted dishonestly in his 1998 study on MMR. Mr Wakefield then directed the film Vaxxed, which accuses the US government of covering up a link between autism and vaccines.
The messages in support of the film, which can be watched online for a fee, included a call to "let the people see #VAXXED and decide for themselves".
The tweets that promoted the Wakefield film were identified by Renée DiResta, an expert in online misinformation who has advised the US Congress. Some of the accounts that posted the messages have been suspended. A spokesman for Twitter said: "Twitter fights malicious automation strategically and at scale."
In another article, Blakely explains that the Russians have been engaging in this tactic for a long time.
In 1983 Soviet operatives planted a fabricated news story with a friendly Indian newspaper. It alleged that the Aids virus had been developed by the US government to target African-Americans and the US gay community.

A report by the Pell Centre for International Relations, a Washington think tank, documented how the lie spread, appearing in stories in 30 languages.

The distrust it gave rise to festered for years. In 2005 a survey found that nearly half of African-Americans believed that HIV was "man-made".

There is now substantial evidence that Russia has updated these methods to reflect our use of social media. Moscow does not appear to have a sincere aversion to vaccination: Russia claims to have an effective vaccination programme. The aim, rather, is to destabilise the West. Any issue that divides public opinion - from Brexit to genetically modified crops - appears to be fair game.

The stunt recalled Russia's efforts to meddle in the US election, which included paying a woman in a cage to dress up as Hillary Clinton in prison garb during a rally in Florida.

It also evoked the cynicism of the Russian military. In 2013 General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia's armed forces, laid out what came to be seen as a blueprint for a new form of warfare, drawing on the media, hackers, psy-ops and fake news. He argued that even a "thriving state" could be brought to its knees in months if only the right combination of pressures were applied.