From Voter Fraud to Vaccine Lies: Misinformation Peddlers Shift Gears

It’s “an easy pivot,” she said. “Disinformation about vaccines and the pandemic has long been a staple of the pro-Trump disinformation playbook.”

The change has been particularly noticeable in the past six weeks. According to an analysis by Zignal, the November 4th election misinformation peaked with 375,000 mentions on cable TV, social media, print and online news. There were 60,000 mentions by December 3. However, the misinformation about coronaviruses increased steadily during this period, rising from 3,900 mentions on November 8 to 46,100 mentions on December 3.

NewsGuard, a start-up fighting false stories, said that of the 145 websites in its Election Misinformation Tracking Center, a database of websites posting incorrect election information, 60 percent also posted misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic . These include right-wing outlets like Breitbart, Newsmax, and One America News Network, which distributed inaccurate articles about the election and are now publishing misleading articles about the vaccines.

NewsGuard’s assistant health editor John Gregory said the postponement is not to be taken lightly as incorrect information about vaccines is causing harm in practice. In the UK in the early 2000s, he said, an unsubstantiated link between the measles vaccine and autism frightened people not to take that vaccine. That led to deaths and serious permanent injuries, he said.

“Misinformation creates fear and uncertainty about the vaccine and can reduce the number of people willing to take it,” said Carl Bergstrom, a University of Washington evolutionary biologist who has followed the pandemic.

Dr. Shira Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said the consequences of not taking the Covid-19 vaccines due to misinformation were catastrophic. The vaccines are “the key to ending the pandemic,” she said. “We won’t get there any other way.”

Economy & Economy

Updated

Dec. 16, 2020, 9:57 am ET

Ms. Powell did not respond to a request for comment.

To deal with misinformation about vaccines, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites have expanded their guidelines to review and demean such posts. Facebook and YouTube said they would remove false claims about the vaccines, while Twitter directed people to credible public health sources.

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