Limited role of bots in spreading vaccine-critical information among active Twitter users in the United States

2017-2019

Adam G. Dunn*, Didi Surian, Jason Dalmazzo, Dana Rezazadegan, Maryke Steffens, Amalie Dyda, Julie Leask, Enrico Coiera, Aditi Dey, Kenneth D. Mandl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objectives. To examine the role that bots play in spreading vaccine information on Twitter by measuring exposure and engagement among active users from the United States.

Methods. We sampled 53 188 US Twitter users and examined who they follow and retweet across 21 million vaccine-related tweets (January 12, 2017–December 3, 2019). Our analyses compared bots to human-operated accounts and vaccine-critical tweets to other vaccine-related tweets.

Results. The median number of potential exposures to vaccine-related tweets per user was 757 (interquartile range [IQR] = 168–4435), of which 27 (IQR = 6–169) were vaccine critical, and 0 (IQR = 0–12) originated from bots. We found that 36.7% of users retweeted vaccine-related content, 4.5% retweeted vaccine-critical content, and 2.1% retweeted vaccine content from bots. Compared with other users, the 5.8% for whom vaccine-critical tweets made up most exposures more often retweeted vaccine content (62.9%; odds ratio [OR] = 2.9; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.7, 3.1), vaccine-critical content (35.0%; OR = 19.0; 95% CI = 17.3, 20.9), and bots (8.8%; OR = 5.4; 95% CI = 4.7, 6.3).

Conclusions. A small proportion of vaccine-critical information that reaches active US Twitter users comes from bots.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S319-S325
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Public Health
Volume110
Issue numberS3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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