Have governments used (or currently use) propaganda to undermine health in hostile countries?

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Recently, there’s been claims that Russia has been fuelling anti-vaxxer sentiment in the US, and that one of the objectives is to undermine the health of the country - not the political health of the country, but the physical health of its people.

To be honest, while I don't doubt that Russia has been trolling the US with this content, I’m not completely convinced that undermining public health was a deliberate objective - if Russia was wanting to go down this route, I would have expected them to make sure that Russia itself was safe from vaccine-preventable diseases, but the country has the same problem many western democracies have.

However, it’s made me wonder if any attempts at similar propaganda is being done or has been done in the past. To count, they should involve either medical treatment being accepted or refused, or other bad lifestyle decisions, and they have to be done for purely malicious reasons. The USA encouraging Russians to drink excessive vodka, which financially benefits only Russian vodka producers, would count, but the US government encouraging a country to accept unsafe agricultural produce from the US to benefit US farmers financially wouldn’t count.

Andrew Grimm

Posted 2019-06-20T02:38:09.817

Reputation: 12 460

4Opium wars, lead by a British empire are a good example, I think. But that not whole propaganda - it's propaganda + actions. – user2501323 – 2019-06-20T07:18:08.987

It seems there is private anti-vax propaganda: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/meet-the-new-york-couple-donating-millions-to-the-anti-vax-movement/2019/06/18/9d791bcc-8e28-11e9-b08e-cfd89bd36d4e_story.html?utm_term=.730c6f67f15a ; also Andrew Wakefield's career and enablers in the press

– pjc50 – 2019-06-20T08:33:07.393

I don't know whether Russia's government is engaging in this propaganda, but your suggestion that they would try to convince people in Russia to believe in the benefits of vaccines doesn't follow. It's very difficult to convince someone who's already resolved to mistrust official news sources, or the official position on vaccination, that vaccines are safe. – Obie 2.0 – 2019-06-20T11:17:15.903

4@John - Your links don't actually seem to demonstrate that. They all refer to the same study, which you also link directly. That study found that Russian troll accounts spread both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine messages, which the authors presumed was to cause conflict, not to make the United States population less healthy. – Obie 2.0 – 2019-06-20T11:21:20.157

1Overall, I suspect the marginal benefit of encouraging anti-vaccination beliefs to Russia would be incredibly small: Russian government trolls account for only a small part of the information that convinces people to be anti-vaccine, which in turn accounts for only a fraction of people who don't get vaccines. In turn only a small portion of that group gets sick, which in turn is only a very small fraction of the total number of people who get sick in the US, which in turn accounts for reducing only a portion of its economic or military strength, which is what actually benefits Putin. – Obie 2.0 – 2019-06-20T11:25:41.283

1When you say "the US government encouraging a country to accept unsafe agricultural produce from the US", I suppose you're referring to GMOs and such? But the problem is that no one has ever shown that such things actually are unsafe, so the claim can easily be seen as the US trying to persuade other countries to ignore such unproven claims. Pretty well parallel to trying to persuade the anti-vaxxers that vaccines don't cause autism or whatever. – jamesqf – 2019-06-20T17:12:54.557

1@John I've clarified what I'm doubtful about. – Andrew Grimm – 2019-06-21T04:45:34.653

@Closevoter: Who am I discrediting or promoting with my question? – Andrew Grimm – 2019-06-22T01:30:23.790

@AndrewGrimm biological terrorism is a much more likely scenario. Proselytizing socialist ideals is an ideological terrorism (widely practiced by the USSR on itself and the rest of the world). But USSR doesn't exist anymore. So a suggestion that Russia is likely to do something like this is off key. It's more likely that nations supporting terrorist activities (as designated by the State Department) would be more likely to do this. – grovkin – 2019-06-22T19:09:08.177

Answers

4

Russia has been fuelling anti-vaxxer sentiment in the US

Probably not for the main reason of subverting US health though. They probably did it for the same reason that they promote contradictory political positions, including their pseudo-promotion of "Black lives matter" etc. As CBS summarized

In the study, professor David Broniatowski and his colleagues say the Russian trolls' efforts mimic those used in the past. Such trolls ramp up controversial issues in the U.S. by inflating different viewpoints, the study says.

From the actual study, it looks like the Russian trolls hoped to disseminate a politically scary message similar to "they're gonna take your guns", but based on vaccines.

Thematically, the messages with #VaccinateUS [a tag mainly promoted by Russian trolls] mirror the general vaccine discourse on Twitter (the box on page 1383). Although the authors of these tweets have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the content of both pro- and antivaccine arguments, small differences set the messages apart. The authors of #VacccinateUS messages tend to tie both pro- and antivaccine messages explicitly to US politics and frequently use emotional appeals to “freedom,” “democracy,” and “constitutional rights.” By contrast, other tweets from the vaccine stream focus more on “parental choice” and specific vaccine-related legislation.

Like other antivaccine tweets, antivaccine messages with #VaccinateUS often reference conspiracy theories. However, whereas conspiracy theories tend to target a variety of culprits (e.g., specific government agencies, individual philanthropists, or secret organizations), the #VaccinateUS messages are almost singularly focused on the US government (e.g., “At first our government creates diseases then it creates #vaccines.what’s next?! #VaccinateUS”). In general, users of #VaccinateUS talk in generalities and fail to provide the level of detail commensurate with what is found in other vaccine-relevant tweets. For example, the author might summarize an argument (e.g., “#VaccinateUS #vaccines cause serious and sometimes fatal side effects”), whereas tweets from the vaccine stream would typically use as many specifics as possible to sound convincing.

#VaccinateUS messages included several distinctive arguments that we did not observe in the general vaccine discourse. These included arguments related to racial/ethnic divisions, appeals to God, and arguments on the basis of animal welfare. These are divisive topics in US culture, which we did not see frequently discussed in other tweets related to vaccines. For instance, “Apparently only the elite get ‘clean’ #vaccines. And what do we, normal ppl, get?! #VaccinateUS” appears to target socioeconomic tensions that exist in the United States. By contrast, standard antivaccine messages tend to characterize vaccines as risky for all people regardless of socioeconomic status.

Fizz

Posted 2019-06-20T02:38:09.817

Reputation: 76 605