Award Abstract #2127545

RAPID: The Rise and Propagation of Anti-Vax and Anti-Access Social Media Campaigns Targeted at Disadvantaged and Minority Populations during the COVID19 Pandemic

See grant description on NSF site

Program Manager:

Sara Kiesler

Active Dates:

Awarded Amount:



Leysia Palen

Awardee Organization:

University of Colorado at Boulder


Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)


As long as there have been vaccines, there has been vaccine hesitancy. When vaccine hesitancy leads to lowered vaccination rates, there is a greater risk for preventable illness in communities. Increasingly, vaccination has become a target for misinformation and disinformation offline and online. Some disinformation purveyors particularly target disadvantaged and minority populations, which for historical reasons may distrust the public health establishment and medical research. Among these groups, distrust in the healthcare system is often accompanied by multiple barriers to healthcare and a heightened susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection. The research team is conducting quick-response research to better understand the social media mechanisms that threaten COVID-19 vaccination compliance and disinformation targeted at minority and disadvantaged groups. This project explores how anti-vaccine campaigns arise and how they use language and narratives to incite fear of vaccination and rejection of public health messages. An ultimate goal of the project is to further equity in citizen knowledge and public health. The primary sites of investigation are social media interactions on Twitter, with supplemental fieldwork in geographical communities. Social media studies will include both quantitative and qualitative analysis methods. Data sets will be created that capture unique terms (commercial vaccine names, those that signal groups targeted for anti-vaccine narratives (e.g., “tuskegee”), those using terms that signal vaccine resistance but are noisier (e.g., “gene therapy”), and those capturing phrases such as (“do your own research”). Retrospective searches are intended to detect the genesis of new anti-vaccine narratives. Finally, supplemental fieldwork using semi-structured interviews conducted in West Dallas investigates if and how online anti-vaccine narratives targeted at Black and Latinx groups appear in geographical space. Students will be involved at all stages of the research.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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