Russian trolls and "bots" on Twitter have tried not only to sow discord in the internal politics of the United States, but also in the sensitive subject of vaccines, although with less intensity, according to a retrospective study by American researchers.
"Did you know that there is a secret government database for children affected by vaccinations?" Says one of these tweets, accompanied by the hashtag #VaccinateUS.
The researchers at the universities of George Washington, Johns Hopkins and Maryland observed the frequency with which vaccines were named in accounts suspected of being "bots". (Automated accounts) or others linked to Russian disinformation agencies, including the well-known Internet Research Agency.
In the sample of 1.8 million tweets that were investigated in the period from July 2014 to September 2017, not many tweets about vaccines were found. For example only 253 messages contain #VaccinateUS.
However, the research shows that "health communications have become weapons: public health issues, such as vaccination, are part of the attempts to disinform the foreign powers", The authors of the research, published on Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, warn.
As in other controversial political issues, such as arms, immigration or religion, the messages were distributed almost equally between pro and anti-vaccines. This is in line with the strategy of the Russian trolleys to promote discord & # 39; in American society, experts say.
Many of the accounts associated with the Russian Internet Research Agency have been identified from the 2016 presidential campaign, through social networks or through Congress. Most are closed.
The accounts identified in the survey have been identified by sending spam messages or reports from Congress or NBC News as belonging to Russian trolls.