The same Russian social media trolls accused of meddling in the 2016 US election may be to blame for the deadly measles outbreak across Europe last year, according to a new report.
Scientists believe the St. Petersburg troll farm also pumped out anti-vaccination propaganda, contributing to the outbreak that killed 72 people and infected more than 82,000, Radio Free Europe reported.
In a study published by the American Public Health Association in September, researchers examined the trolls’ online messages from July 2014 through September 2017 and concluded that their posts were responsible for “eroding public consensus on vaccination.”
Vaccination hesitancy is now one of the top 10 threats to global health, according to the World Health Organization.
Measles — which was close to being eradicated in many countries — has seen a 30 percent increase globally.
“The reasons for this rise are complex, and not all of these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy,” the WHO noted. “However, some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence.”
The highly contagious viral infection has cropped up in Eastern and Southeastern European countries — including Ukraine, which was the worst hit in 2018.
The country saw dwindling vaccine supplies and services in 2015 and 2016, when the conflict between government forces and pro-Russia separatists was at its peak.
WHO vaccine specialist Katrine Habersaat was dubious about the link between trolls and the measles outbreak.
“We actually don’t know enough about the influence of misinformation available online upon vaccination intentions and behaviors,” she told Radio Free Europe. “What we do know is that there is an element of echo chambers in this.”
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