Background: Vaccines play a critical role in controlling pandemics, but vaccine hesitancy is widespread around the world. One of the main reasons for this hesitation is the ubiquity of misinformation on social media. Although considerable research attention has been drawn to how exposure to misinformation is strongly associated with vaccine hesitancy, little scientific attention has been given to the investigation or robust theorizing of different content themes relating to COVID-19 anti-vaccine misinformation and the writing strategies in which these content themes manifest. The virality of such social media content presented as comments, shares, and reactions has practical implications for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
Objective: We investigated whether there were differences in content themes and writing strategies used to spread anti-vaccine misinformation about COVID-19 and their impact on social media virality.
Methods : We built a database of anti-vaccine misinformation from major social media platforms from September 2019 to August 2021 to examine how misinformation presented in the form of content themes and how these themes manifested in writing were associated with the virality in terms of likes, comments and shares. Vaccine misinformation was extracted from two prominent and widely cited misinformation databases, COVID Global Misinformation Dashboard and International Fact-Checking Network Corona Virus Facts Alliance Database, which aim to track and debunk misinformation about the COVID-19. We primarily focused on 140 Facebook posts, as most anti-vaccine disinformation posts about COVID-19 were found on Facebook. We then used quantitative content analysis to examine content themes (i.e. safety issues, conspiracy theories, efficacy issues) and disinformation manifestation strategies (i.e. i.e. the imitation of news and scientific reports in terms of format and linguistic characteristics, the use of a conversational language style, the use of amplification) in these messages and their association with the virality of the misinformation in the form of likes, comments and shares.
Results: Our study found that security concerns were the most important content theme and a negative predictor of likes and shares. With respect to writing strategies manifested in content themes, a conversational style and the imitation of news and scientific reports via format and linguistic features have been frequently used in anti-COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, the latter being a positive predictor of tastes.
Conclusion : This study contributes to a richer, research-based understanding of the concerns about content theme and protest strategy that must be countered by anti-vaccine misinformation circulating on social media so that accurate information about COVID vaccines -19 can be released to the public, reducing vaccine hesitancy. . Appreciation of anti-COVID-19 vaccine messages that use language features to mimic news or scientific reports is disturbing because large audiences can be reached on social media, potentially exacerbating the spread of misinformation and hampering global efforts to fight the virus.