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      Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate

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          Abstract

          <p class="first" id="d4724818e176"> <i>Objectives.</i> To understand how Twitter bots and trolls (“bots”) promote online health content. </p><p id="d4724818e181"> <i>Methods.</i> We compared bots’ to average users’ rates of vaccine-relevant messages, which we collected online from July 2014 through September 2017. We estimated the likelihood that users were bots, comparing proportions of polarized and antivaccine tweets across user types. We conducted a content analysis of a Twitter hashtag associated with Russian troll activity. </p><p id="d4724818e186"> <i>Results.</i> Compared with average users, Russian trolls (χ <sup>2</sup>(1) = 102.0; <i>P</i> &lt; .001), sophisticated bots (χ <sup>2</sup>(1) = 28.6; <i>P</i> &lt; .001), and “content polluters” (χ <sup>2</sup>(1) = 7.0; <i>P</i> &lt; .001) tweeted about vaccination at higher rates. Whereas content polluters posted more antivaccine content (χ <sup>2</sup>(1) = 11.18; <i>P</i> &lt; .001), Russian trolls amplified both sides. Unidentifiable accounts were more polarized (χ <sup>2</sup>(1) = 12.1; <i>P</i> &lt; .001) and antivaccine (χ <sup>2</sup>(1) = 35.9; <i>P</i> &lt; .001). Analysis of the Russian troll hashtag showed that its messages were more political and divisive. </p><p id="d4724818e229"> <i>Conclusions.</i> Whereas bots that spread malware and unsolicited content disseminated antivaccine messages, Russian trolls promoted discord. Accounts masquerading as legitimate users create false equivalency, eroding public consensus on vaccination. </p><p id="d4724818e234"> <i>Public Health Implications.</i> Directly confronting vaccine skeptics enables bots to legitimize the vaccine debate. More research is needed to determine how best to combat bot-driven content. </p>

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          Most cited references14

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          A key task in conducting research integration studies is determining what features to account for in the research reports eligible for inclusion. In the course of a methodological project, the authors found a remarkable uniformity in the way findings were produced and presented, no matter what the stated or implied frame of reference or method. They describe a typology of findings, which they developed to bypass the discrepancy between method claims and the actual use of methods, and efforts to ascertain its utility and reliability. The authors propose that the findings in journal reports of qualitative studies in the health domain can be classified on a continuum of data transformation as no finding, topical survey, thematic survey, conceptual/thematic description, or interpretive explanation.
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            Opportunities and challenges of Web 2.0 for vaccination decisions.

            A growing number of people use the Internet to obtain health information, including information about vaccines. Websites that allow and promote interaction among users are an increasingly popular source of health information. Users of such so-called Web 2.0 applications (e.g. social media), while still in the minority, represent a growing proportion of online communicators, including vocal and active anti-vaccination groups as well as public health communicators. In this paper, the authors: define Web 2.0 and examine how it may influence vaccination decisions; discuss how anti-vaccination movements use Web 2.0 as well as the challenges Web 2.0 holds for public health communicators; describe the types of information used in these different settings; introduce the theoretical background that can be used to design effective vaccination communication in a Web 2.0 environment; make recommendations for practice and pose open questions for future research. The authors conclude that, as a result of the Internet and Web 2.0, private and public concerns surrounding vaccinations have the potential to virally spread across the globe in a quick, efficient and vivid manner. Web 2.0 may influence vaccination decisions by delivering information that alters the perceived personal risk of vaccine-preventable diseases or vaccination side-effects. It appears useful for public health officials to put effort into increasing the effectiveness of existing communication by implementing interactive, customized communication. A key step to providing successful public health communication is to identify those who are particularly vulnerable to finding and using unreliable and misleading information. Thus, it appears worthwhile that public health websites strive to be easy to find, easy to use, attractive in its presentation and readily provide the information, support and advice that the searcher is looking for. This holds especially when less knowledgeable individuals are in need of reliable information about vaccination risks and benefits. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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              Detecting Automation of Twitter Accounts: Are You a Human, Bot, or Cyborg?

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                American Journal of Public Health
                Am J Public Health
                American Public Health Association
                0090-0036
                1541-0048
                August 23 2018
                August 23 2018
                : e1-e7
                Affiliations
                [1 ]David A. Broniatowski is with the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science, The George Washington University, Washington, DC. Amelia M. Jamison and Sandra C. Quinn are with the Department of Family Science, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park. Sihua Qi and Lulwah Alkulaib are with the Department of Computer Science, School of Engineering and Applied Science, The George Washington University. Tao Chen, Adrian Benton,...
                Article
                10.2105/AJPH.2018.304567
                6137759
                30138075
                85962bb9-4441-4167-9c9e-7710d52c6dda
                © 2018
                History

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