Dr. Richard Pan Speaks to Study Showing Russian Twitter Trolls and Bots Worked to Manipulate Vaccine Debate

August 24, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and state senator representing the Sacramento region, responded to the study, Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate, published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study examined tweets between July 2014 and September 2017, which includes the time period of a nationwide measles outbreak which began in Disneyland in December 2014 and the introduction and passage of SB 277 to abolish non-medical exemptions to vaccination for schools in California in 2015.

Dr. Richard Pan, pediatrician and State Senator, who authored SB 277, which removed all exemptions to vaccine requirements for school entry except medical exemptions, made the following statement on the study:

“This research provides evidence that foreign and domestic agents are manipulating social media through bots to discourage vaccination to promote their own agendas; Russian trolls for sowing political discord and commercial and malware distributors for marketing. In addition, the researchers concluded that a significant proportion of anti-vaccination messages are organized ‘astroturf.’ Manipulation of social media to promote anti-vaccine messages by outside agents poses a serious threat to the health and safety of Americans as vaccination rates have declined below community immunity in several areas. This year, I authored SB1424 to begin to address social media manipulation that puts Americans at-risk of harm, and we must defend our country from this threat.”

The study describes the role of Twitter bots in promoting anti-vaccine messages and undermining confidence in vaccination, which puts communities at risk for outbreaks of preventable diseases and undermines efforts to adopt public policies to prevent such outbreaks. Science proves that vaccines are safe and effective and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, social media is used to amplify misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccines including the false idea of a scientific “debate” about the safety and value of vaccination.

SB 1424 (2018) would convene a working group of stakeholders and experts to study and make recommendations regarding model strategic plans and possible legislation designed to mitigate the spread of false information through social media. 

Dr. Richard Pan is a parent, small business owner, former UC Davis educator and pediatrician who represents Sacramento, West Sacramento, Elk Grove and unincorporated areas of Sacramento County in the state legislature and is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Public Employment and Retirement. As a legislator, Dr. Pan continues to practice medicine at WellSpace Health Oak Park Community Clinic, pursuing his passion for working with families to build healthier communities.

 

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