Russian misinformation campaigns target health fears
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Russian efforts to sow discord ahead of the 2020 elections appear focused on fear-mongering around health care issues.
Why it matters: Misinformation online can have real-world health and safety repercussions.
Driving the news: Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that RT, the Russia-backed television network based in the U.S., has been peddling unverified stories claiming that 5G wireless technology can be linked to cancer, autism, Alzheimer's and other health problems.
- "Hundreds of blogs and websites appear to be picking up the network’s 5G alarms, seldom if ever noting the Russian origins," the Times notes. "Analysts call it a treacherous fog."
- A study from George Washington University professor David Broniatowski and his colleagues in October found that Russian trolls using sophisticated Twitter bot accounts were attempting to fuel the anti-vaccination debate by posting about the phenomenon — from both sides — at a far greater pace than the average user.
- Their efforts, Broniatowski notes, mimic misinformation tactics that Russian trolls have used in the past — supercharging the online discourse in America around one issue by inflating polarizing viewpoints about it from both sides.
Be smart: The most effective misinformation often plays into preconceived notions or fears that already exist in society, especially around health, safety and well-being.
- Part of the recent backlash against big technology companies is over concerns that they will prioritize innovation and commercialization over public safety.
The bottom line: Health issues are particularly susceptible to manipulation, given that it's still unclear what directly impacts and cures many conditions, including cancer.