Baptiste Poupart-Lafarge

Education Analyst

Fighting misinformation about vaccines by targeting young people 

Misinformation, rumours and popular beliefs made life difficult for the vaccination campaign. There are multiple factors of rising fear among the population and it is necessary to make information about the vaccine accessible to all.

For months now, the vaccine has been the number one topic in the media, information is accumulating and contradicting each other. Doctors denounce the dangers of the vaccine with overly complicated and misinterpreted words that are at the origin of conspiracy theories. The latter are very widely disseminated on social media fuelling problematic scepticism. Anti-vax drugs have notably used the deaths of elderly people after having received their dose to confirm their theories, as can be seen on several Facebook posts. All this is supported by many comments like “Murder! Clear and simple!” or “That’s why the vaccine is a crime”. This is not an isolated phenomenon, according to the IFOP in 2017, 55% of French people agree with the idea that “the Ministry of Health is in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry to hide from the general public the reality about the harmfulness of vaccines”.

The essence of fake news is to play on our emotions, to disguise a truth, to give us the feeling of understanding what others do not understand. Social media can be a very powerful influence on young people and unfortunately, due to a lack of critical opinion, young people can spread (false) information at Twitter speed. The arrival of deepfakes could make the situation even worse. A deepfake is a video or audio recording produced or altered using artificial intelligence. These videos aim to deceive the viewer by showing celebrities or ordinary people doing or saying things they did not do or say. If used properly, it can create hyper-realistic results, which are almost impossible to detect as real or fake. Although most of the deepfakes have been removed from the internet, there are still many in circulation.

Moreover, social media are not walking alone, family has also a strong role in the development of our beliefs, and sometimes even legitimises absurd things. Indeed, some popular misconception spread from generation to generation and are still difficult to eradicate,for example, that vaccines are responsible for some cases of autism. 

Recently the BCCDC (BC Centre for Disease Control) based in Canada  offers teachers and parents the opportunity to use an online tool (Kids Boost Immunity) to educate children about the importance of vaccines. The course includes 35 lessons, it is clear, simple, and very accessible. Moreover this action has a double benefit for the population, indeed, at the end of each module, the child is asked to test their knowledge. If they score over 80%, they win a vaccine which is donated to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for children in need around the world. At the moment only a few in England have access to the full course.                                                                                                

Thus, governments and the european Union with their Startup Europe Club can finance amazing ideas.                                                                

It is also possible for governments and local authorities to act on this particularly dangerous phenomenon and especially for young people. For example by launching awareness campaigns such as Good Information Week. This could be characterised by speakers in schools and promoted in traditional media and social networks.These interventions can also be renewed during elections where the dissemination of false information is unfortunately a real issue. For example the 8 march of 2016, the Sun stated that the Queen supported Brexit. The information was widely reported and played, and even history does not tell us whether the outcome would have been different, we know that this false information has played a major role in the final result.

The fight against this phenomenon is particularly difficult and this is partly due to the fact that the borderline between freedom of expression and the dissemination of fake news is very blurred. Governments must therefore develop a genuine public service of information and culture and impose strict measures on broadcasters.             

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