In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. Russian trolls have spread the myth via social media.
Studies have already documented how cybercampaigns by the Internet Research Agency -- a St. Petersburg "troll farm" that has been accused of meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election -- artificially bolstered debate on social media about vaccines since 2014 in a way that eroded public trust in vaccinations.
Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that "vaccination hesitancy" has become one of the top threats to global health.
It notes a 30 percent rise in measles globally and a resurgence of measles in countries that had once been close to eradicating the disease.The article quotes Rober Califf, director of Duke University's center for health data, The Forge.
He said combating misinformation campaigns about vaccines had become more complex now that research is demonstrating that a large amount of the social-media posts represent what he called "state-sponsored cyberwarfare, particularly from Russia."
Katharina Kieslich, a political scientist at the University of Vienna, has written that "vaccination hesitancy might be explained from a political-science perspective."
Kieslich says the pervasiveness of anti-vaccination arguments ensures that challenges will remain for policymakers and health workers trying to reach "citizens who are skeptical of vaccines.".GWU management professor David Broniatowski, has explained how Russi'as Internet Research Agency has spread vaccine disinformation.
Broniatowski tells RFE/RL he hasn't seen any evidence that Russia has tried to weaken Western democracies by persuading people to stop vaccinating. Rather, known trolls masqueraded as legitimate users on social media and debated vaccines as part of their strategy to promote political polarization.
"It's a known strategy to infiltrate an interest group around a particular issue or topic and then slowly try to introduce new things into that discourse," he explains.
After "getting access to a vulnerable subgroup and getting followers from that subgroup" on social media, Broniatowski says, the Russian trolls would get their followers to retweet messages about other issues that are in line with the Kremlin's agenda.