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Social media plays a role in spreading information, mis-information about COVID-19 vaccine

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Elizabeth L. Cohen, associate professor in West Virginia University’s Department of Communication Studies, can provide expert comment on how social media affects the spread of information about the COVID-19 vaccine. (WVU Photo)

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As conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines seem to comfort some people, others are anxious to get the shot they believe will protect them from the deadly virus. Social media has played a role in the spread of information and mis-information alike, according to Elizabeth L. Cohen, associate professor in West Virginia University’s Department of Communication Studies.


AUDIO: “Social network sites like Facebook…”

“Social network sites like Facebook and YouTube will continue to facilitate the spread of both information and mis-information about vaccines. Unfortunately, misinformation may garner more attention on these sites because it’s usually more interesting, emotionally charged, and very often it’s easier to understand than some of the more credible information about the vaccines, often characterized by stuffy medical jargon.”

“A lot of the misinformation circulating about the COVID vaccine is tied to conspiracy theories. Ironically, research suggests that the reason that many people subscribe to conspiracy theories which sow fear and mistrust in different institutions is because it makes them feel more comfortable. Conspiracy theories are more appealing to people feeling anxious and uncertain about the world around them. Conspiracy theories provide answers for why things are the way they are, and even if though they are not supported by evidence, having any answer makes people feel more confident, more in control and in-the-know. 

“But the information about vaccines circulating on social media isn’t all bad. Soon people will start seeing social media announcements about their friends and acquaintances getting vaccinated. This will likely help make vaccination seem like a normal, safe behavior. Right now, images of public figures like Governor Jim Justice getting the vaccine are already beginning to circulate. My own research suggests that compared to the health experiences of ordinary people in the news, the health experiences of famous people are more likely to provide a benchmark that people will use to gauge what their own experience will be like. So, the more that high-profile people are seen having pleasant, safe and effective vaccination experience, the more the public should follow suit.” — Elizabeth L. Cohen, Associate Professor, Department of Communication 

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.



CONTACT:  Elizabeth Cohen
Associate Professor, Communication Studies
WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Laura Fletcher
Director of Marketing and Communications
WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
o: 304-293-6867 c: 773-793-1819;

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