IU researchers visualize social media misinformation impact on vaccine hesitancy

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 7:34 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - There’s no doubt the comments section of various social media sites can lead to clashes and conflict, but IU researchers are now looking into whether those platforms are impacting vaccine hesitancy too.

Beyond politics, its not uncommon to see information online that’s just flat out wrong or missing the mark.

It may be a headache for most, but for Dr. John Bryden, the Executive Director at the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University, it’s a key aspect to understanding why people are hesitant to get a shot proven to be safe and effective.

“What we were interested in is, was there a link?” Bryden said. “Is misinformation on social media related to, or even causing, people to be reluctant to take vaccines?”

A February poll recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the number of people who’ve gotten the COVID vaccine, or will as soon as they can, is increasing. They state it’s now at 55% of U.S. adults.

On the other hand, data from the study shows those who said they will never get it, or only will if the vaccine is required for certain activities, is holding steady at about one in five people.

As public health experts try to push out facts, Bryden said they’re met with misinformation in the digital domain.

He said the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University has launched a tool called CoVaxxy to visualize that and it’s impact on vaccine uptake.

The charts and graphs compare public health data to analysis of millions of tweets.

Bryden said, that through the course of the pandemic, the amount of misinformation online has increased.

“We’re actually seeing, what’s the opposite word to improvement?” he said.

Bryden adds the research has been eye opening, and his team will continue to track the potential impacts of social media on vaccine uptake as the pandemic continues.

“One of the things we’re concerned about is that when people see one message, even just one message, I think it’s happened to me,” he said. “Then, it starts to spread doubt in your mind. Even if it’s true or not. Just one little message, seeing it on a social media website.”

CoVaxxy is available to the public.

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