Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Conversation addressed the misinformation that exists in social networks about vaccines

Organized by the UC School of Communications in conjunction with the Millennium Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, a discussion was held that addressed the topic of vaccines against COVID-19 and how they talk about them on social networks. This space is especially relevant due to the misinformation that circulates in these media, and the need to find mechanisms to stop its spread.

Chile is in the process of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus. To date, almost 7 million people have been inoculated, and more than three million already complete this process, with the two doses. In this context, disinformation finds a space to spread, and skeptics and anti-vaccines have made social networks a place to transmit their opinions and false news.

To address this issue, the UC School of Communications , in conjunction with the Millennium Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy (IMII) developed the discussion “Communication in viral times: how to talk about vaccines on social networks . “

The meeting was broadcast on the YouTube channel of the UC Faculty of Communications , and was led by Macarena Rojas, scientific communicator, master in journalism and academic from the faculty. “Today social networks are responsible for an incredible speed data exchange, which does not recognize geographical or language limits, which have great reach and penetration. That is why it is important to generate these dialogues and that we are aware of the different phenomena that we find ourselves in this network, because there we also find groups with their own interests and a specific agenda that they want to propose, ” said Macarena at the beginning of the activity, which he told also with the participation of three experts in social networks, citizen behavior and science.

The first to make his presentation was the sociologist Axel Callís, director of TuInfluyes.Com , the agency that carried out the Data Influye survey, which measured the predisposition of Chileans to be vaccinated since August 2020. Callís showed the main results of this survey, which shows, among other findings, that in February 8% of those surveyed declared that they would not be vaccinated. Within that group, 22% believe that there are hidden intentions behind the vaccine. “This does not stop drawing attention, there are people who talked about 5G and other things that are worrying, because of the fake news that circulates on social networks,” reflected Callís.

For his part, Cristian Huepe, director of the Social Listening Lab SoL-UC of the School of Communications and associate researcher at Northwestern University, showed some results of a study carried out by that laboratory, which focused on looking at social networks and detecting what it is conversed in them. “We must think of social networks as a new public square in which we can listen to the narratives that are being generated and the type of communities that develop them,” he commented at the beginning of his intervention, and then revealed information detected between June and August 2020 , time when data were collected for the study.

In that period, there were 13 thousand anti-vaccine messages posted by national users, which received more than half a million retweets. This corresponds to more than half of the interactions about vaccines that were carried out in this social network in our country.

Huepe also presented some results of a study carried out in January of this year, which identified where the pro and anti-vaccine messages come from. The researcher pointed out that there are two types of skeptical or anti-vaccine users: isolated individuals with emotional arguments and influential populists from ideological extremes . On the other hand, the provaccine messages are generated by institutions, media, political figures and elites. These messages have high propagation, but little penetration among skeptics.

Social networks as a facilitating instrument
To close this discussion, Dr. Alexis Kalergis, director of the Millennium Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, highlighted how useful social networks can be to transmit information in crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Through these spaces, healthcare professionals can quickly share key data, update information expeditiously, and interact with peers to discuss the validity of the findings . Moreover, the public can obtain official information from the government or scientists, understand the information clearly through infographics and keep up to date with health information.. However, Dr. Kalergis also recognized that there is a threat of misinformation, which can be counterproductive when receiving news about the pandemic.

At the end of this activity, the four participants reflected on the importance of the scientific world living closely with communications. In this way it will be possible to counteract the effects of false information. “The public is hungry for knowledge. The effort must be to communicate in an entertaining way, but with evidence ” , concluded Dr. Kalergis.