Read CNN’s report on how Russian troll accounts tried to stoke division between Americans by exacerbating online debates about vaccination:
When it came to the Russian troll accounts, the researchers found 253 tweets containing the #VaccinateUS hashtag among their sample. Among those tweets with the hashtag, 43% were pro-vaccine, 38% were anti-vaccine, and the remaining 19% were neutral.
By posting a variety of anti-, pro- and neutral tweets and directly confronting vaccine skeptics, trolls and bots “legitimize” the vaccine debate, the researchers wrote in the study.
“This is consistent with a strategy of promoting discord across a range of controversial topics — a known tactic employed by Russian troll accounts. Such strategies may undermine the public health: normalizing these debates may lead the public to question long-standing scientific consensus regarding vaccine efficacy,” they wrote.
Overall, the researchers found that Russian trolls, sophisticated bots and “content polluters” tweeted about vaccination at significantly higher rates compared with average users.
The study remains limited, in that it’s difficult to determine with 100% accuracy who is behind a Twitter account, and “the Internet Research Agency is certainly not the only set of trolls out there,” Broniatowski said.
Additionally, it’s even more difficult to determine an account’s true intent. But the researchers and other experts have some ideas about why Russia might want to fuel America’s vaccine debate.
It may be a strategy to promote political discord, Broniatowski said, adding, “we cannot say that with 100% certainty, because we’re not inside their head.”
“The Internet Research Agency has been known to engage in certain behaviors. There’s the one everybody knows about, which is the election. They also tend to engage in other topics that promote discord in American society,” Broniatowski said.