A new study has shown that although they may protect your personal data, independent search engines display a lot more misinformation related to vaccines than internet giants, such as Google.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (Geneva, Switzerland) listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. The internet plays a huge role in this rise in negative attitudes towards vaccinations as misinformation continues to be published and widely spread, with many taking what they read online as fact.

Determined to fully evaluate the role of search engines in spreading this misinformation, an international research group conducted a study to monitor the amount of anti-vaccination resources returned in searches in different search engines.

Internet companies tracking and storing user’s personal data and monitoring their online behavior has left many internet users wary of internet giants and turning, instead, to independent search engines. The study, published in Frontiers in Medicine, focused on how the search engines’ approach to data privacy may impact the quality of scientific results.

“A recent report showed that (50%) of people in the UK would not take a Coronavirus vaccine if it was available. This is frightening – and this study perhaps gives some indication as to why this is happening,” remarked lead author Pietro Ghezzi (Brighton & Sussex Medical School, UK).

The researchers searched for the term “vaccines autism” in a variety of different search engines in English, Spanish, Italian and French. For each search the Chrome browser was cleared of cookies and previous search history. They then analyzed the first 30 results from all searches.

Vaccines being linked to autism is a concept inherited from a now discredited study published in 1998, linking the MMR vaccine to the development of autism. Despite the fact that countless studies have since been published since disproving the theory, the flawed findings are still shared as if fact by many.

The researchers discovered that alternative, independent search engines (Duckduckgo, Ecosia, Qwant, Swisscows, and Mojeek) and other commercial engines (Bing and Yahoo) display more anti-vaccination websites (10-53%) in the first 30 results than Google (0%).

Furthermore, some localized versions of Google (English-UK, Italian and Spanish) also returned up to 10% more anti-vaccination resources than the google.com (English-US).

“There are two main messages here,” Ghezzi summarized. “One is to the Internet giants, who are becoming more responsible in terms of avoiding misinformation, but need to build trust with users regarding privacy because of their use of personal data; and the other is to the alternative search engines, who could be responsible for spreading misinformation on vaccines, unless they become better in their role as information gatekeepers. This suggests that quality of the information provided, not just privacy, should be regulated.”

The researchers concluded that search engines should be developing tools to test search engines from the perspective of information quality, particularly with health-related webpages, before they can be deemed trustworthy providers of public health information.

[Source: This article was published in biotechniques.com - Uploaded by the Association Member: Eric Beaudoin]

Categorized in Internet Search

When tragic events happen, social media quickly fills with rumors and fake stories. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Kate Starbird of the University of Washington about misinformation on the web.


Was the U.S. duped into striking Syria? No. The grisly deaths this week of women and children in what looks to be a chemical weapons attack was not carried out by opponents of President Trump in his own government - the, quote, unquote, "deep state." But that is the rumor that's been circulating on social media. And of course, this isn't the first time rumors like that have spread. Kate Starbird studies the spread of rumors. She teaches at the University of Washington, and her research traces fake news back past this presidential race to at least the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

KATE STARBIRD: We found a couple of different kinds of rumors, and one of them - there was this weird little rumor. It was kind of small but very different from the other ones and that was this theory that the Navy SEALs had perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings. And they had been blamed on these what they called patsies, which were the suspects that were the Chechnya brothers. But it was all part of this - it was a false flag that the U.S. government or some elements of the U.S. government had perpetrated this event on itself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do we see happen when a tragedy occurs? Is this - did you find that this was common?

STARBIRD: We did see across all of the manmade disaster events, over and over again, these same claims go from, you know, event to event to event.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What we've just seen now on the strike on Syria, saying that somehow these were actors staging the event to sort of dupe the United States to make them - to draw them into the war. It's the same kind of thing.

STARBIRD: Exactly. So as soon as I saw this event, I actually posted on Facebook. I said, you know, you're seeing these images. But within, you know, a couple hours or maybe a day, you're going to see claims that this didn't really happen or that it was perpetrated by someone else. And of course, that comes to fruition.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the question is, so if we're seeing the same thing happening over and over again, who's doing this?

STARBIRD: I think you have people that are doing it for individual reasons. They have some political motivation, or they have financial motivation. They can make money selling these ideas, selling ads on their website.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just trying to get eyeballs so that they can sell, you know, whatever product they're pushing.

STARBIRD: So there's that element. Then there's people that are sincere believers in this stuff. They really - they're bought in. They think about this. They're 9/11 truthers (ph). They're JFK conspiracy theorists. And then there was elements of what seemed to be purposeful disinformation strategies. So someone who doesn't believe these things, who's got a political motivation for injecting very confusing ideas that are anti-globalist, anti-corporatist, anti-mainstream media.

And they - a lot of the theories had this idea that there's a group of very powerful people that are outside of government that sort of orchestrate things. Those are the kinds of things that were actually much more problematic than the folks that were doing it for money or the sincere believers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does this say to you? What have you learned through looking at this?

STARBIRD: I've learned a lot in the last few months. So, you know, I come from computer science and media studies, but I'm really sort of an engineer background. And I've ended up in this very politicized space looking for sort of a U.S. right versus left kind of spectrum, and that's not what I found.

What I found was these kinds of theories and this way of thinking about the world is appealing to both people on the left and the right - that people are going to see one theory. Like, they're anti-vaccine or they're anti-GMO. And they're getting drawn into these other theories of, you know, deep state actors that are changing world events to manipulate you. And then getting pulled into this worldview that is very potentially dangerous.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kate Starbird. She teaches at the University of Washington. And she studies the spread of misinformation online, a huge problem these days. Thanks so much for joining us.


STARBIRD: Thank you.

Source : npr.org

Categorized in Internet Technology

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