"Disinformation Dozen" Study Relies on Disputed Data, Raising Questions of Bias

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A recent study claiming to uncover the strategies used by the so-called "Disinformation Dozen" to spread anti-vaccine misinformation on Twitter is coming under fire for its reliance on a disputed framework and lack of acknowledgment of the controversy surrounding its key source.

Uncritical Acceptance of Disputed Claims

The study, titled "The Disinformation Dozen: An Exploratory Analysis of Covid-19 Disinformation Proliferation on Twitter," builds its analysis around the 12 individuals identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) as responsible for the majority of anti-vaccine content on social media.1 However, the authors fail to address the significant criticism leveled at the CCDH's "Disinformation Dozen" report by social media giant Meta (formerly Facebook).

In an August 2021 statement, Meta directly refuted the CCDH's central claim, asserting that there is no evidence to support the notion that the 12 named individuals are responsible for 73% of anti-vaccine content on their platforms.2 Meta also criticized the CCDH's methodology, noting that their analysis looked at only 483 pieces of content from 30 small groups.2

By uncritically accepting the CCDH's framework without addressing these serious concerns, the study's foundation appears shaky at best. The authors' failure to even mention Meta's rebuttal, let alone grapple with its implications, is a glaring omission that undermines confidence in their research.

Amplifying Defamation, Ignoring Nuance

The study's focus on the 12 individuals targeted by the CCDH also risks amplifying potentially defamatory claims about their role in real-world harms. By laundering the CCDH's claims that these individuals are "responsible for" vaccine hesitancy and COVID deaths, the study promotes a narrative that is not just scientifically dubious but possibly libelous.

Moreover, the authors' categorization of vaccine-related content as "misinformation" lacks nuance and transparency. Without clear explanations of how they are defining and identifying "anti-vax" content, the authors leave themselves open to charges of bias and subjectivity in their classifications.

Political Bias Unchecked

Finally, the study's analysis of the political leanings of communities spreading vaccine misinformation raises questions of bias. While the authors note that right-leaning accounts appear to be more prone to sharing such content, they make little effort to situate this finding within the broader context of the politicization of public health issues.

A rigorous study would acknowledge the existence of anti-vaccine sentiment across the political spectrum and explore the nuances of this connection more carefully, rather than focusing solely on the association between conservative politics and vaccine hesitancy.

In conclusion, while the spread of misinformation on social media is a critical issue worthy of examination, this study's reliance on a controversial framework, amplification of disputed claims, and potential political bias undermine its credibility. As the debate over online misinformation intensifies, researchers must be scrupulous in their methods and transparent about the limitations and potential flaws in their work. Only by upholding the highest standards of objectivity and rigor can we hope to effectively combat the spread of false and misleading information.


References

1. Nogara, Gianluca, Padinjaredath Suresh Vishnuprasad, Felipe Cardoso, Omran Ayoub, Silvia Giordano, and Luca Luceri. "The Disinformation Dozen: An Exploratory Analysis of Covid-19 Disinformation Proliferation on Twitter." WebSci '22: 14th ACM Web Science Conference 2022, Barcelona, Spain, June 2022. https://doi.org/10.1145/3501247.3531573

2. Bickert, Monika. "How We're Taking Action Against Vaccine Misinformation Superspreaders." Meta, August 18, 2021. https://about.fb.com/news/2021/08/taking-action-against-vaccine-misinformation-superspreaders/

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