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Fake news and pseudo-science as post-modern mythology: The case of the anti-vaccination movement

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FAKEOLOGY (Fake news and pseudo-science as post-modern mythology: The case of the anti-vaccination movement)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2021-05-31

FAKEOLOGY is a project designed to understand how pseudo-scientific news is diffused within social networks and how it affects human judgement and behaviour. Using the example case of the COVID-19 vaccination, its goal is to draw links between pseudoscience, populism and health literacy and focus on the anti-vaccination movement to provide a key venue wherein mis- and dis-information can be studied. Fluid and conflicting information on COVID-19 vaccination has eroded trust in public health messaging and exacerbated the spread of misinformation. This has caused many people to feel overwhelmed by inconsistent public health messaging which can feel distant and imposed. In this project, we introduce a deep listening framework to public health communication with the purpose of surfacing peoples’ perceptions of COVID-19 vaccines and identifying trust deficits and resources. Our process can be applied to support public health messaging by tuning communication efforts to people’s perceptions and lived experiences at a deeper level. It pursues the following scientific objectives:
O1: Identify diffusion patterns of scientific and pseudoscientific discourses on vaccines within social and news media content.
O2: Identify human behaviour and decision-making patterns upon exposure to scientific mis- and dis-information.
O3: Improve dissemination strategies of scientific news that are employed by journalists, scientists, and policy makers.
To address O1 and O2, the Fellow engaged in a detailed review of the research literature between 2000 and 2020 – a rigorous research undertaking to identify gaps in the literature prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
This work resulted in the publication of one research article:
Neff, T. Kaiser, J. Pasquetto, I. Jemielniak, D. Dimitrakopoulou, D., Grayson, S. Gyenes, N. Ricaurte, P. Ruiz-Soler, J., Zhang, A. (2021). Vaccine hesitancy in online spaces: A scoping review of the research literature, 2000-2020, Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, October 2021, Volume 2, Issue 6

Objective 2
Identifying the need to understand qualitatively the challenge of misinformation around COVID-19 vaccination, the Fellow prioritized O2 before engaging with tasks under O1. To address O2, the Fellow designed and conducted the following studies:
A. A large-scale qualitative study over 18 months in which a series of focus groups (50 in total) were conducted. The qualitative data acquired from these focus groups provided highly in-depth and nuanced insights into the diverse challenges that coronavirus vaccination introduces to different segments of the population. More details on the tasks addressing O2 are provided in the description of the relevant Work Packages in the next section.
B. A large-scale survey experiment to evaluate the impact of coronavirus-related messaging on the vaccine for children including parents of young children under 11 years old. The survey experiment is expected to be concluded in early spring 2022. More details on the tasks addressing O2 are provided in the description of the relevant Work Packages in the next section.

This work resulted in the publication of one research article and the submission of another that is currently under review:
- Dimitrakopoulou, D. and Lewis, S. (forthcoming). The Generative Dialogue Framework and the Pursuit of Better Listening by Journalists: A Design-Centered Approach for More Constructive Conversations with Audiences. Digital Journalism; Special Issue Design + Journalism.
- Dimitrakopoulou, D. (under review). Deep Listening as a Method for Surfacing Perceptions of COVID-19 Vaccines: A Bottom-Up Approach to Unravel Public Thought and Sentiment. Science Communication.

Objective 1
To further address O1, the Fellow is studying the dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine messaging by official public health institutions on Twitter. With a special focus on the Twitter discourse on the COVID-19 vaccine for children, as the most up-to-date topic related to vaccine hesitancy, the Fellow is exploring the following research questions: (a) How are public health institutions and agencies communicating about the vaccine? (b) How are people reacting/responding to the message? What is the conversation that is happening as a reaction to those messages?
The Fellow will work on publishing the results from the social media analysis in a scientific article that will be submitted to a journal in the summer of 2022.
In our state-of-the-art approach, we argue the need for introducing deep listening approaches to the space of public health communication to establish systematic and insightful dialogues with communities and surface peoples’ perceptions, concerns, and misconceptions related to COVID-19 vaccination. Listening to and unraveling how people talk about their concerns and fears as well as how they associate them with prior lived experiences is a powerful framework to gain insight into what is meaningful and relevant for them. We claim that this approach can contribute to understanding what kinds of messaging approaches would resonate with the public and, rather than persuade, help address concerns with actionable information. To support this process, the Fellow designed the Generative Dialogue Framework (GDF), a deep listening approach that allows for tuning into people's lived experiences as a means of surfacing and understanding their perceptions.We argue that these methods can provide an effective way of surfacing concerns and misconceptions that can be meaningfully addressed by stakeholders, thereby providing information, garnering trust, and filling the communication void that has been ever-present since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Additionally, the Fellow submitted three methods articles with the goal to advance focus group research and provide actionable frameworks for researchers and scholars that employ qualitative research methods in their disciplines. These frameworks and approaches can specifically support researchers that conduct studies in the context of controversial or polarizing topics of concern (such as vaccination) when the focus on lived experiences and priors are crucial for understanding challenges, concerns, and motivations. The methods and the frameworks designed by the Fellow constitute unique methodological contributions in the field and introduce an innovative interdisciplinary approach to the field of qualitative studies. This work project resulted in the publication of one article and the submission of two articles in high-impact peer-reviewed journals that are currently under review.
- Dimitrakopoulou, D. (2021). Designing Generative Dialogue Spaces to Enhance Focus Group Research: A Case Study in the Context of COVID-19 Vaccination. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. Vol 20, pp. 1-14. DOI:10.1177/16094069211066704.
- Dimitrakopoulou, D., Kang, Wonjune, and Roy, D. K. (under review). Introducing Sociotechnical Sensemaking to Unravel Perceptions of COVID-19 Vaccines: A Case Study at the Intersection of Facilitated Dialogue, Technology, and Design. Communication Methods and Measures.
- Dimitrakopoulou, D. and Theodorou, P. (under review). Affective Facilitation: A Framework for Surfacing Lived Experiences and Harnessing Creativity in Focus Group Research, International Journal of Qualitative Methods.
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