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Moderating Vaccine Disinformation

mmohammed profile image Mohamed ・2 min read

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Before working as a CM, I spent two years moderating social media platform meant for university students. There, I got fairly comfortable with both proactive and reactive moderation. The job mixed in live chat moderation with longterm policy work, which was really helpful in preparing me for some of the more grueling parts of being a CM. And yet...vaccine disinformation is a challenge all unto itself.

Part of my job is working with a community of science enthusiasts. This forum invites conversation around a huge number of topics, ranging from physics and chemistry to virology, archaeology, and beyond. One of the issues that my team and I had in mind around September of last year was the vaccine disinformation that was sure to flood the forums. This wasn't exactly a trailblazing call, considering the amount of verifiably false information we had to moderate since the early days of the pandemic.

However, vaccine disinformation presents a different headache. Perhaps our main issue is that anti-vaccine sentiment has a vastly more established infrastructure than general COVID-19 skepticism - doubting COVID-19 is generally as old as the pandemic itself, but anti-vaccine sentiment predates the Boston Tea Party.

Thus far, I'm happy to say that we've been able to deal with it all relatively well. As with my previous role as a moderator, we've combined reactive (instructing our volunteer mods to take down vaccine disinformation) and proactive (clear community guidelines + provision of verifiable official information) strategies. Considering the global nature of the community, we also made sure to include accurate vaccine information for each region represented on our forums.

Personally, I've been planning to put together an AMA featuring a virologist and vaccine expert as part of our approach.

I have to ask, though, what the other CMs in this community think about taking on this issue. How would you deal with vaccine disinformation in a science community to make for a healthier environment in the long term?

Discussion (4)

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laurenf profile image
Lauren Fiske

I love your AMA idea! My first thought was running an engagement campaign in an effort to pull out the virology and similar experts in the community to get them to post more so I think that's spot on. Good luck!

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mmohammed profile image
Mohamed Author • Edited

Much appreciated, Lauren! Whenever I can, I’ll usually default to throwing an at AMA at my problems haha

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Evan Hamilton

Disinformation is a hard thing to define sometimes; we've had some success orienting it around rules about harming others. Incorrect vaccine info - even if well-intentioned - is pretty straightforwardly harmful and should be removed.

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mmohammed profile image
Mohamed Author • Edited

It really is hard to define in so many instances. Even with models that distinguish between wether or not the incorrect information can be reasonably seen as intentionally misleading or not, it gets murky quickly.

And, yes, that approach (orienting around rules against harming others) is exactly what helped us so much. It's a particularly useful north star when it comes to incorrect vaccine info, considering the (as you said) straightforwardly harmful nature of it.