Online “misinformation” linked to vaccine refusal

Driven by the realization that a crime was in progress and out of the resulting sense of duty, I opened my anti-COVID-vaccine substack in August 2021. Writing several hundred posts was a lot of work. Many of you, my readers, shared my posts online, for which I am thankful. I was, of course, only one person out of thousands of Covid vaccine skeptics.

Were our efforts a waste of time? Were our substacks closed echo chambers and useless mutual admiration societies? Did we manage to convince anyone to avoid Covid vaccines?

An obscure study from 2022 shows that our work — writing and sharing truth online — was very effective.

To understand the meaning of the above study, you will have to tolerate hostile language aimed at us. They call our truth-telling efforts “misinformation” and describe us negatively. However, the data provided by this study is very flattering to us.

The authors try to measure the effect of “misinformation” on the intention of people to accept Covid vaccines.

Here we study relationships between vaccine uptake, vaccine hesitancy, and online misinformation. Leveraging data from Twitter, Facebook, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we investigate how online misinformation is associated with vaccination rates and levels of vaccine hesitancy across the U.S. We also use Granger Causality analysis to investigate whether there is evidence for a directional association between misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.

The authors set out to do a statistical analysis to see if our efforts drive vaccine refusal. They attempted to look beyond correlations and find causality.

The results of their analysis are impressive!

Looking across U.S. states, we observe a negative association between vaccination uptake rates and online misinformation (Pearson R=–0.49, p<0.001). Investigating covariates known to be associated with vaccine uptake or hesitancy, we find that an increase in the mean amount of online misinformation is significantly associated with a decrease in daily vaccination rates per million

How big was the effect? How many people did we save from COVID vaccines or boosters? The following chart has the answer:

It shows that with the typical levels of “misinformation,” vaccine refusal is greater than with zero misinformation. So, our work had a significant effect.

Democrats Were MORE Receptive to our Messaging!

Something above should surprise you. It turns out that “antivaccine misinformation” had more effect on Democrats than on Republicans!

Are Republicans more stubborn?

Are Democrats more open-minded?

Did Republicans make up their minds more decisively in the beginning?

I have no idea! Let us know what you think about that in the comments.

Whatever the explanation is, the data shows that our messaging reached Republicans and Democrats and was able to change some minds about, specifically, the decision to vaccinate.

Guesstimating the difference between the “no misinformation” point and the “typical misinformation” point, we can see that we could change the minds of about 3% of Republicans and about 8% of Democrats. As the period covered by the study is only four months (Jan 4 to Mar 25), the effect over the last three years is much greater.

Job well done! Thank you, my reader, if you ever shared my posts with your friends or online communities – your time was not wasted.

Debunking Efforts Fell Flat

Another study from Germany attempted to see how effective “debunking” efforts were at keeping people’s intention to vaccinate.

It turned out that debunking the truth does not work very well. While the study explored Germany, it probably applies to the rest of the world. The authors state:

In other words, debunking did not change intentions to vaccinate in general and even backfired among informed people.

None of this is surprising since vaccine skeptics generally seized on the truth (COVID vaccines are harmful and do not work), and debunking the truth leads to “backfiring effects.” The authors of the German study allude to that by coyly recommending “authentic communication.”

This article was first published in Igor Chudov’s Newsletter