To fight disinformation about covid vaccine we need more information about actors, vectors and patterns of dissemination for the campaigns. This is the conclusion from a study by the European Digital Media Observatory comprising information from fact checkers from all over Europe.
The report comprises fact checkers in 17 EU countries, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain) plus the United Kingdom and non-EU Balkan countries.
“Hand in hand with the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented level of disinformation about the virus has been spreading rapidly over social media platforms. This ‘infodemic’ has created a number of challenges, including the serious risk that disinformation-fueled confusion and distrust can undermine an effective public health response in Europe.”
” Similarly disinformation around COVID-19 vaccines could risk undermining governments’ vaccination plans and more generally public preparedness for vaccines distribution.”
When asked about specific disinformation they have found, the fact checkers mentioned:
– vaccines haven’t been tested enough (they have been approved too fast)
– disinformation about people dying after the vaccine and because of it
– disinformation about people having severe consequences after the vaccine (e.g. sterility, Bell’s palsy etc.)
– “mRNA vaccines can modify the human DNA
Other major disinformation narratives about the vaccine and the vaccination campaign detected are grouped around the following:
- ineffectiveness of the vaccines;
- conspiracy theories linked to Bill Gates and others on their intention to depopulate the planet, or injecting 5G-microchips and nanorobots as well as vaccines as a mass surveillance tool
- cancer and infertility as direct effects of vaccines
- politicians pretending they are getting vaccinated, but in reality they are not.
17% said that there are disinformation specific to their country:
- the well-being sector in Finland may be more active in spreading misinformation or disinformation narratives from the perspective of individual rights and self-determination;
- the conspiracy theories about the pandemic in Greece involve a racist element. Many people believe that the prevention measures employed by the government was a cover to mask the movement of migrants in the country;
- in the UK, there are localised narratives that gesture towards the NHS’s role in vaccine rollout. This includes that the NHS is being strongarmed into vaccine rollout by big-pharma, or that they are implicit in a wider conspiracy surrounding the pandemic.
The majority of the respondents in the survey were either fact-checking organisations or fact-checking teams within media organisations, complemented by a tech company using both AI and human analysts for fact-checking and a platform publishing fact-checks commissioned to a science communications.
“Further attention should be devoted by future surveys to the topic of disinformation on the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccination campaigns to focus on the actors, vectors and patterns of dissemination of such disinformation on one hand, and to questions of impact and effectiveness of fact-checkers’ work in this field on the other”, the report concludes.
“Fact-checkers remain central players at the national and European level to fight disinformation related to vaccination campaigns. In this context, the importance of cooperation, strengthening networks, sharing best practices and collaborative initiatives among European fact-checking organisations also emerged clearly from the survey, as disinformation around COVID-19 vaccines poses a number of risks for vaccination plans and public preparedness for vaccines distribution throughout Europe.”
The European Commission recently announced eight national hubs that will become part of the European Digital Media Observatory network to fight digital disinformation. Each national hub will cover one or more EU Member States: Ireland, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, as well as Norway, in the EEA. The hubs should be operational by the end of summer 2021.
The European Digital Media Observatory brings together fact-checkers, media literacy experts, and academic researchers to understand and analyse disinformation, in collaboration with media organisations, online platforms and media literacy practitioners.