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How Donald Trump’s continued election contesting could hinder vaccination efforts

What’s happening? Alternative conservative news networks Newsmax and One American News (OAN) are gaining in popularity, with a recent survey from Gallup and the Knight Foundation showing an uptick in the number of people citing both as a source of relied upon information. This coincides with President Donald Trump urging supporters on social media to turn to the networks, and may suggest viewers are in the market of outlets that will amplify his baseless claims of election fraud. Newsmax’s popularity in the survey was above the Associated Press and on a par with organisations such as the Washington Post and CBS News.

Why does this matter? While an increasing number of conservative US politicians are beginning to accept President Trump’s defeat in last month’s election, Trump himself is still holding out. As part of this, he’s been urging supporters (mostly via Twitter) to watch alternative networks more likely to agree with his determination of events – and it’s having an impact. Newsmax, for example, recently scored its first ratings win over Fox News in what media commentators described as a significant milestone.

The increasing popularity of these networks may hamper efforts to combat disinformation around the safety of Covid-19 vaccines. Both the organisations mentioned in the above article have a history of spreading false narratives surrounding health care.

OAN was recently temporarily banned from uploading YouTube videos for one week after it posted misinformation about coronavirus. Meanwhile, Newsmax came under fire earlier this year for “grifting” readers of its online publication by claiming a natural cure for Alzheimer’s disease existed as a way of promoting affiliated products. More exposure to these networks increases that chances of misinformation being spread at a time when cracking down on “fake news” is critical.

This isn’t a uniquely US issue. In the UK the government has been laying down plans to tackle anti-vax misinformation, establishing a task force last month. Laws governing social media platforms, set to be introduced in the UK next year, will also require these companies to have clear policies for content that could be harmful to society at large – such as coronavirus misinformation.

Lateral thought from Curation – Whenever the spread of misinformation is discussed, it’s tempting to paint social media as wholly responsible for the problem. While some platforms deserve to be criticised, it should also be noted social media is an effective way to communicate to large audiences – it can be part of the solution.

Recently, a group of vaccine doctors have been educating TikTok users via accessible (and fun!) videos on the platform. The group is also answering questions users may have, such as how vaccines work and the difference between the jabs being developed. TikTok itself has also recently said it will make authoritative information about vaccines readily available while committing to removing misinformation.

Further thought from Curation – To give some credit to the Trump Administration, Vice President Mike Pence did opt to have himself filmed taking the vaccine this week. This could be a significant occurrence given surveys have shown the President’s supporters are more likely to refuse a vaccine than people with other political leanings.

Nick Jardine

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