The Inoculation is a data project and investigative podcast exploring the intersection of anti-vaccine beliefs, technology and politics. It reports on how misinformation, disinformation and fake news are constructed and how they spread.

Hosted by a cross-border duo of freelance journalists — Eva von Schaper in Germany and Daiva Repeckaite in Lithuania and Malta — the production probes how serious the threat of disinformation is, and how politics and politicians use anti-vaxx views to score points with voters.

In Lithuania, the team analysed survey data showing the attitudes of more than 300 election candidates to vaccine mandates. With the help of data mentor Adriana Homolova, they also used Python code to create a purpose-built Twitter scraper to carry out a trend analysis of tweets preceding recent elections.

The code for this tool is publicly available on GitHub.

They revealed, for example, how the Forum for Democracy, a far-right Dutch party, amplifies the messages of anti-vaxx activist Willem Engel, who was arrested for incitement to break the law in the spring of 2022.

In Portugal, they found that a far-right party’s representation in parliament ballooned from one to 12 members after the party capitalised on COVID fatigue and claimed to defend ordinary people from the government’s restrictions, including vaccine certificates.

Finally, they investigated how far-right presidential candidates in France succeeded in punching above their weight on social media thanks to vaccine-related tweets.

The investigation exposed the extent to which globally connected echo chambers on social media give anti-vaccination movements an unprecedented boost. Research shows that once individuals buy into one conspiracy theory, they are more likely to believe others.

The team started by digging into how populist parties have used anti-vaccine views as a wedge issue, contributing to the resurgence of measles in Europe. The journalists went on to explore how the same players have influenced anti-vaccine and anti-mask groups and COVID deniers in general.

They also found that when Russia invaded Ukraine, some of these social media personalities took to campaigning against solidarity with Ukraine and sanctions against the Russian elite.

See the links below for more. Transcripts of podcast episodes are available at www.theinoculation.com.

Cover photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

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