Confronting Medical Misinformation

Renée DiResta talks about the spread of malign narratives across social networks and how that impacts public health.

For as long as there have been vaccines, there have been people opposed to them. But the anti-vaccine movement has grown rapidly in recent years, with vaccine hesitancy being called a “top threat to global health” by The World Health Organization even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine have been rampant online, despite efforts by major platforms to curb its spread. Researchers found that just 12 influencers on social media are responsible for generating two thirds of anti-vaccination misinformation on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate uncovered that social media companies have helped anti-vaxx networks gain 58 million followers, and that these platforms make up to $1 billion a year in advertising from the anti-vaxx industry.

… social media companies have helped anti-vaxx networks gain 58 million followers, and that these platforms make up to $1 billion a year in advertising from the anti-vaxx industry.

In this episode, I interviewed Renée DiResta, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory. Renée investigates the spread of malign narratives across social networks, and assists policymakers in understanding and responding to the problem. She has advised Congress, the State Department, and other academic, civic, and business organizations, and has studied medical disinformation and the anti-vaccine movement.

Renée regularly writes and speaks about the role that tech platforms play in the proliferation of disinformation and conspiracy theories, and has written and been covered in Wired, the New York Times, The Economist, Washington Post, and more.

In this episode, we learn:

  • How Renée used network analysis to understand why there was only a 35% MMR vaccination rate in a San Francisco public school
  • The difference between disinformation and misinformation
  • How the anti-vaxx movement has grown and changed since COVID
  • Why and how social media companies are putting up guard rails
  • How influencers have the opportunity to protect communities and spread public health information effectively

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Trying to make a difference.