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  • COVID-19 Misinformation Newsletter 26 October 2021

    26 October 2021

    COVID-19 Newsletter

    Large-Scale Pro-China Inauthentic Network Promoting COVID-19 Misinformation Detected by DemTech

    The COVID-19 Misinformation Newsletter is prepared by the staff of the Programme on Democracy and Technology (DemTech) at Oxford University. We summarise the latest independent research and high-quality news reporting on the production and consumption of computational propaganda and campaigns to manipulate public understanding of the health crisis. The newsletter is edited by Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka. Our newsletter is a two-minute read.

    News Briefing

    Medical professionals that promote “alternative” treatment capitalise on anti-vaccination sentiments by advertising their supplements as substitutes for vaccines. According to an investigation conducted by the Associated Press, a group of “vocal and influential” chiropractors have been promoting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.  The group has “touted their supplements as alternatives to vaccines, donated large sums of money to anti-vaccine organizations, and sold anti-vaccine ads on Facebook and Instagram.” 

    Protests against Italy’s new workplace vaccine mandates turned violent, as demonstrators clashed with police, stormed a hospital and the office for a major labour union. According to the Associated Press,  two police officers and a nurse were injured.

    The world needs an Intergovernmental Panel for the Information Environment that would help examine the complexity and severity of the misinformation problem and what’s driving it. This is the recommendation of a group of experts who assembled at the Nobel Prize Foundation’s Solutions Summit, an op-ed published by CNN suggests. Such an organization would shape internet-use norms and policies that can vanquish misinformation in the areas where it thrives.

    Academic Research

    At least 500 inauthentic pro-China social media accounts have pushed the narrative that COVID-19 was imported to Wuhan through American seafood. According to a study conducted by Marcel Schliebs, a researcher at DemTech who uncovered the network of inauthentic accounts, they promoted narratives that were strikingly similar to those shared by articles in Chinese media.  This DemTech investigation was carried out in collaboration with US broadcaster NBC.

    Studies that use general social media content for machine learning to study misinformation will likely misrepresent Black communities. This is one of the findings of the research report on COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and narratives surrounding Black communities published by First Draft. The report also urges researchers investigating misinformation targeting Black people to focus on platforms beyond Facebook and Twitter that are popular among Black communities.

    Conservative Twitter users without a large follower base tend to discuss conspiracy theories about vaccination more often than users who can be classified as more liberal. This is a key finding from a new study published in Social Media + Society.

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