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What Brands Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation Spreading Online


In the next chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine misinformation represents a major challenge for corporations balancing different strategies to care for their employees, inform their customers, flatten the curve and restore the economy. Corporations have to make vaccine-related communications and policy decisions in an environment where a growing percentage of the population isn’t sure who or what to believe. 

Brands are not only expected to communicate with stakeholders but to over communicate. And the expectations are unprecedentedly high. In fact, Edelman found that 62% of people say that the country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges we face.

Knowledge about vaccine narratives and misinformation spreading online is critical to the endeavor of brand teams navigating today’s information ecosystem to get out in front of misinformation in order to protect their stakeholders, their business, and to restore trust. 

In order to understand how a narrative is playing out online, we seek to understand:

  1. What is being said? 
  2. Who is behind the narrative, and why? What are the shared motives, interests, and ideologie bringing this group or groups together?
  3. Where did the narrative start? How and where is it spreading?
  4. What is the level of authenticity involved?

Download our new report to dive into our latest findings around vaccine narratives, misinformation and conspiracy theories spreading online. Join us for a webinar to dive into these insights and get practical advice for brands.

Below is a high-level summary of findings:

What is being said?

Vaccine narratives and misinformation fit into three general themes: vaccines don’t work, vaccine distribution & guidelines are problematic, and vaccines are part of a larger plan to control the population (and other conspiracy theories).

Who is behind the narrative?

The groups behind the narratives are not who you might think. Only 6 percent of vaccine misinformation is attributed to anti-vax groups online… 43 percent of vaccine misinformation is attributed to QAnon and other conspiracy groups. As Imran Ahmed, CEO, Center for Countering Digital Hate states, the goal of misinformation is not to persuade… it’s to inject doubt. We believe conspiracy groups are leveraging this opportunity to increase general distrust of the government and other institutions. It is in this kind of environment that any narrative — no matter how far-fetched — can thrive.

Why is this a challenge for brands? Companies that have put their value on display and have spoken out about social or political issues can become targets for agenda-driven groups… Their brand story and voice can be co-opted and used as a megaphone for someone or some groups looking to score points in favor of their own agenda.

Worth noting, foreign influence factions are driving 29 percent of vaccine misinformation spreading online.

Where did the narrative start? How and where is it spreading?

The majority of vaccine misinformation is spread where people spend most of their time online: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, a significant portion of the conversation has moved to niche platforms like Parler, along with fringe spaces like anonymous message boards (4chan, 8kun, etc)

What is the level of authenticity involved? 

The vaccine conversation is inauthentic. Posts from spam, single purpose, or automated accounts make up nearly 30 percent of this conversation. This indicates that agenda-driven groups are deliberately trying to amplify misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

Come back to the blog as we provide updates every week.

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