You might think twice about heading to Twitter or Facebook to read about vaccinations. "A significant portion of the online discourse about vaccines may be generated by malicious actors with a range of hidden agendas," says George Washington University's David Broniatowski, author of a new study calling out Russian trolls for seeking to polarize Americans on the issue during 2016 election meddling. Already known to have stirred up issues relating to guns and race, Russia-linked Twitter accounts sent more than 250 tweets offering a pro- or anti-vaccine stance between 2014 and 2017, the BBC reports, citing the study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.
Those identified as trolls tweeted about vaccines 22 times more often than regular Twitter users, according to the study, which notes that #VaccinateUS was "uniquely identified with Russian troll accounts associated with the [Kremlin's] Internet Research Agency," per the Guardian and New York Times. "You can't fix stupidity. Let them die from measles, and I'm for #vaccination!" one such tweet read. "Don’t get #vaccines. Illuminati are behind it," read another. "By playing both sides, they erode public trust in vaccination, exposing us all to the risk of infectious diseases," says researcher Mark Dredze. But the tweets are really about sowing discord, says Broniatowski, noting that many IRA-linked tweets about vaccines also mentioned, race, class, and the US government. (Expect something similar as the midterms approach.)