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Social media conspiracy theories could undermine efforts to combat Zika virus, experts caution

May 25, 2016
Mark Dredze

Mark Dredze, assistant research professor with the Department of Computer Science

Social media users who share conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific claims about the Zika virus may undermine upcoming efforts to keep the disease from spreading, according to a study published online today by the journal Vaccine.

The researchers behind the study—from Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, and the University of Georgia—say the misinformation they detected by analyzing thousands of Twitter posts could cause many vulnerable people to refuse future Zika vaccinations.

The researchers also encouraged public health authorities to use this same real-time social media monitoring method to keep track of—and respond quickly to—unsubstantiated claims that could hinder upcoming inoculations.

In their journal article, the researchers pointed out that although the development of a Zika vaccine is in its early stages, “there is already cause for concern regarding the success of the eventual vaccination campaign.” And the growth of social media, they wrote, “has created a fertile environment for conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific claims.” Excerpted from The Hub at Johns Hopkins University.

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