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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Scientific journals are easy targets of automated software that post links to social media, often with misinformation, according to a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: Automated disinformation campaigns that harness legitimate scientific research could further erode the public's understanding and trust in science, particularly around COVID-19.

Driving the news: Researchers looked at 563 Facebook groups that shared links to a Danish trial, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in November 2020, that supported mask-wearing.

  • About 39% of the posts that provided direct links to the study were in Facebook groups most affected by automation while about 9% of the Facebook groups were least affected by automation.
  • Among posts made to groups most affected by automation, about 20% claimed masks harmed the wearer and 51% made conspiratorial claims about the trial. In comparison, among groups with the least automation, 9% claimed masks harmed the wearer and 20% made conspiratorial claims about the trial.

The researchers said their findings indicated the study was likely the subject of a campaign to disseminate misinformation.

  • They recommended legislation to strengthen penalties for those behind automation, greater enforcement of rules by social media companies and counter-campaigns by health experts.

Go deeper

The anatomy of social media's mad-making machine

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Facebook and other social media companies didn't cause America's massive political divide, but they have widened it and pushed it towards violence, according to a report from New York University released Monday.

Why it matters: Congress, the Biden administration and governments around the world are moving on from blame-apportioning to choosing penalties and remedies for curbing online platforms' influence and fighting misinformation.

1 hour ago - World

Sudanese government says it put down coup attempt

Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok (L) and Sovereign Council Chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Photo: Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty

The Sudanese government announced on Tuesday morning that its military and security services had foiled an attempted coup from within the country’s armed forces.

Why it matters: The apparent coup attempt comes with Sudan’s transitional government — in which power is shared between civilians and generals — facing crises on several fronts two years after dictator Omar al-Bashir was toppled in a popular uprising.

2 hours ago - Health

Johnson & Johnson says booster shot increases efficacy of COVID vaccine

Syringes and a vial of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in French Polynesia on Sept. 8. Photo: Jerome Brouillet/AFP via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson said in a press release Tuesday a global study showed that the protection offered by its coronavirus vaccine was strengthened by a booster shot.

Why it matters: While J&J has not formally applied for authorization to offer booster shots to the general public, it said it has shared the results of the study with the Food and Drug Administration and plans to share it with the World Health Organization and other health regulators.

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