Computer software used to prevent people joining ISIS and the KKK could be aimed at anti-vaxxers to stop them spreading dangerous myths online
- Moonshot, a firm based in London, may be able to target anti-vaxxers online
- Software could make sure they see correct information or adverts to get help
- The program spots at-risk people through online searches or social media posts
Anti-terror computer software could be used to target people spreading lies about vaccines online.
The program, which finds at-risk people through their online searches and Facebook posts, is being adapted to help to stop the spread of anti-vaccination myths.
It works by finding those who are reading or watching dangerous content and instead showing them adverts to get help or sending them direct messages.
People reading anti-vaxx conspiracy theories could instead see pop-ups with reliable information about immunisation or offered counselling.
The same technique is used to try and get help to people who are part of extremist groups, who may be targeted by gangs or are involved with human trafficking.
People who are reading about or posting about anti-vaccination could be targeted by the software and shown material educating them on the truth about immunisations (stock image)
‘When an individual is engaging with violent extremist content online, they might be searching for this content on Google or posting this content on Facebook,’ Ross Frenett, a co-founder of the company, Moonshot, told The Guardian.
‘They’ll see an advertisement, or receive a direct message, which offers counselling or social support. This is an entry for us.
‘If we can get that person into a one-on-one conversation with a social worker, that’s the starting point for longer-term change.’
Moonshot is based in London and works in 28 countries around the world to try and stop people being radicalised by ISIS and the KKK.
It primarily uses online advertising to control what people see online and try to steer them away from dangerous behaviour.
If Moonshot identifies someone is at risk they may make sure they see more positive posts online, such as job adverts.
People searching for or posting about certain things can be found using software connected to the inner workings of sites like Google and Facebook to trawl them for certain key words.
One scheme in the UK targeted young people at risk of joining gangs to make sure they saw vouchers to use a gym in a bid to distract them from violence.
And its creators say they could now use it to show people videos explaining vaccines are safe or to reliable health information if they’re found posting myths about immunisation.
Anti-vaccination theories have been described as one of the biggest threats to human health around the world.
The World Health Organization listed ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the biggest health dangers in 2019, alongside Ebola, climate change and air pollution.
A report by the medical research charity Wellcome last month found only 59 per cent of people in Western Europe think vaccines are safe. And this figure dropped to below half for Eastern Europe.
France turned out to be the most sceptical country in the world when it comes to immunisations, where a third of people surveyed actively disagreed that they’re safe.
A report by Wellcome estimated the percentage of people worldwide who believe vaccines are safe. People living in Europe have the lowest level of faith in immunisations, while those in the east of Africa and south Asia are most likely to believe they work
Common anti-vaxx theories include that the jabs don’t work or give people the disease they’re supposed to protect against, that the drugs contain dangerous heavy metals, or even that one is linked to autism.
All are regularly debunked and vaccines have been proven to be safe over decades and saved millions of lives.
Tackling the spread of these myths – which is sped up by social media – is becoming an increasing priority of the Government in the UK.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock even said he wouldn’t rule out stopping children from starting school unless they had been vaccinated.
Moonshot’s co-founder, Vidhya Ramalingam told the Guardian: ‘The internet can be used to spread dangerous behaviours and ideas, but there is an opportunity for us to get creative and use technology to solve some of the world’s most complex problems.’
Moonshot works with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – it is not clear whether it’s already using its software to help anti-vaxxers.
CLAIM VACCINES AREN’T SAFE IS ‘ABSOLUTELY WRONG’
The UK’s chief medical officer – the top advisor to the Government – last year criticised people spreading lies about vaccines being unsafe.
Dame Sally Davies, speaking on the 30th anniversary of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab, said people spreading the ‘myths’ were ‘absolutely wrong’.
She said in November: ‘Over 30 years, we have vaccinated millions of children. It is a safe vaccination, we know that, and we’ve saved millions of lives across the world.
‘People who spread these myths, when children die they will not be there to pick up the pieces or the blame.’
One myth is based on research done by Andrew Wakefield in the 1990s which claimed MMR led to autism, but his results were later found to be fake, and the work was called ‘fatally flawed’, ‘fraudulent’ and ‘dishonest’ by experts in the field.
Others claim the vaccine doesn’t work – but after the introduction of MMR in 1963, global measles deaths dropped, on average, from 2.6million to around 100,000, according to the WHO.
The vaccine was introduced by the NHS in 1988, a year in which there were 86,001 cases of measles in England – within 10 years, in 1998, this had dropped to just 3,728 reported.
The figure has fluctuated since, believed to be partly due to the Wakefield scare in the mid-90s, but in 2017 there were reports of only 1,693 measles cases in England.
(Note: Figures quoted are cases reported to Public Health England and not lab-confirmed numbers)