COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and narratives surrounding Black communities on social media
Media Democracy Fund
Over 75 per cent of US adults have received at least one Covid-19 vaccination. Yet vaccination rates vary widely across regions and demographics. Among those who have received at least one vaccine (percentages are relative to their total population), 68 per cent are Asian, 52 per cent are white, 48 per cent are Hispanic and 43 per cent are Black. In most states where data is available, Black people are receiving a smaller percentage of vaccines relative to their overall population, despite them accounting for a much larger share of Covid-19 deaths.
Structural inequities, such as a lack of access to vaccines, have played a large role in limiting vaccine uptake among Black people. While ongoing measures are being taken to increase access to vaccines, and vaccination rates gradually increasing among all populations, these efforts have so far failed to significantly increase vaccine uptake in Black communities.
A long history of medical racism and exploitation combined with ongoing discrimination in health care — unequal access to health care facilities, insurance and treatment — has left many Black people distrustful of the medical system and official institutions. Widespread mistrust and lack of access to reliable information about Covid-19 vaccines — on social media platforms such as Facebook, it was found that official information reached far fewer Black people than other demographics — have created an environment under which misinformation can thrive.
Even where access needs are met, vaccine misinformation represents another obstacle to ensuring people get vaccinated. Where “inequality-driven” mistrust is high, online misinformation can flourish.
Yet relatively little is known about the most prominent narratives related to Black people and vaccines on social media. And little is known about how these narratives emerge, are interpreted, and possibly amplified by influencers on social media. Understanding how vaccines are being framed online as well as their dynamics on social media is important to creating comprehensive strategies aimed at dispelling misleading vaccine information.
And as new potent and highly transmissible variants such as Delta emerge, it’s vital to close this vaccination gap; otherwise, Covid-19 caseloads will fall disproportionately on Black Americans.
With that in mind, First Draft’s research team collected and thematically analyzed the top- performing vaccine-related social media posts surrounding Black communities from November 9, 2020 to June 9, 2021. We looked specifically at posts from unverified Facebook Pages and Groups as well as Instagram and Twitter accounts. We also identified and closely monitored Black anti-vaccine influencers on these same platforms during that time period. The combined research is an attempt to assist journalists, researchers and public communications experts wishing to report and act on potentially problematic vaccine discourse as it relates to Black Americans.