A new study on Russia’s state-run public opinion manipulation campaigns says the same Russian trolls and bots that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election also spread misinformation on social media about the safety of vaccines in an effort to promote discord in the United States.
The study by researchers at George Washington University says Twitter accounts used by employees of Russian state-run troll factories tweeted both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine messages.
Published on August 23, the study found that Twitter accounts identified as the accounts of Russian trolls tweeted messages about vaccines 22 times more often than regular Twitter users from 2014 to 2017.
“These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society,” said Mark Dredze, a team member and professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, which was also involved in the study.
“By playing both sides, they erode public trust in vaccination, exposing us all to the risk of infectious diseases,” Dredze said.
The lead author of the study, George Washington University assistant professor David Broniatowski, said the Russian trolls also attempted to link the issue of vaccination to issues “like racial disparities or class disparities that are not traditionally associated with vaccination.”
The study comes amid an effort by social-media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to remove accounts that spread misinformation.
Earlier this week, Facebook said it had removed 652 accounts and web pages linked to Russia and Iran that were spreading political misinformation