Thursday, August 26, 2021

Misinformation roundup: Facebook hid unfavorable report; health agencies fight fire with fire, using social media

Misinformation about coronavirus vaccines is widespread, partly because many holdouts don't trust the government or large, mainstream news-media sources for information. For better or worse, that means people are most influenced through friends, family and social media, whose algorithms often turn platforms into echo chambers that boost even extreme opinions.

A report from Facebook showed that, from January through March, an article casting doubt on coronavirus vaccines was its highest-performing link, and a site boosting vaccine misinformation was one of its most-visited pages. The company shelved that report for fear of public blowback; the Biden administration has criticized Facebook for allowing such misinformation to flourish.

Some state and local health departments, adopting an "if you can't beat 'em" philosophy, are seeking to boost vaccination rates among the under-40 crowd by paying social-media influencers to post pro-vax content on Facebook, TikTok and Facebook, Kate Queram reports for Route Fifty.

Some influencers live a little closer to home, though: faith leaders, medical professionals, friends and family also have some sway over vaccine skeptics, though they acknowledge often it's difficult to make headway.

Public-health officials have voiced hope that more religious leaders would encourage their congregations to get vaccinated, particularly among white evangelicals, some of the most resistant. But Southern pastors Politico interviewed said they didn't want to bring up such a divisive subject and risk alienating their flock.

In southeastern Kentucky, where vaccination rates are low and infection rates are high, health-care workers say they're trying to fight misinformation without being too confrontational, writes Jamie Lucke for Kentucky Health News.

For example, Dr. Shelley Bundy Stanko, chief medical officer at CHI Saint Joseph London and medical director of the Laurel County Health Department, said she's frustrated by how politicized vaccination has become, and said she works hard to reassure patients that it's safe and necessary. A few patients are willing to listen, but many (probably the majority) are "sort of shutting down and not absorbing the information," she told Lucke. Stanko said she continues trying to reach patients non-judgmentally, because "confrontation does not help." Instead, she urges people to research facts instead of relying on neighbors, social media, or television.

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