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Peer-Reviewed Policy

US News Outlets Republish Russian Vaccine Disinformation, Hurting US Pandemic Response

Vaccine Fake News is Booming Thanks to US Outlets Republishing Russian Disinformation from State-Owned Outlets.

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Introduction

Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets deftly balance the right proportions of truth and lie. When the lie is buried in the truth, it lends credibility to the story. In the post-WWII era, the Kremlin planted real documents from the US with skilled forgeries. The fakes left other countries uncertain if they were real. It had a real effect on our relationships internationally.

We lucked out back then. Today, luck is with the Kremlin. What once took years can spread in a matter of weeks. The ease with which fraudulent documents can race across the internet has changed everything.

Where before, disinformers had to trick an unwitting journalist into drafting elaborate forgeries, now they need only locate people with a tendency toward conspiracy thinking using publicly available information, and the job is done for them. Lest anyone doubts the power of disinformation, consider that a mob of anti-vaccine and far-right extremists just blocked other people from getting the vaccine.

We should have seen that coming. Anti-vaccine activists began revolting in early January in Poland after being targeted by Russian disinformation. Social media served as the conduit. Page names reveal that the Kremlin is targeting religious communities, strategically advantageous since it has also encouraged those communities to fear the government and “mainstream media.”

Polish social media fan pages identified as publishing disinformation:

  • PCH24,
  • The gates of hell will not prevail against him,
  • Roman Catholic,
  • Christ in everything

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E. Rosalie

Disasters & information (public health + nat sec) | Johns Hopkins alum | @COVID19Tracking alum | Mapping medical misinfo 💉 and information disorder